This foster teen’s summer camp journey led to meaningful mentorship

This foster teen’s summer camp journey led to meaningful mentorship

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Ridgecrest (California) Corps Officer Lt. Gina Noble and ninth grader Brooklynn Morris now “hang out” regularly.

Last year, Brooklynn Morris almost threw away the flyer stuffed in her school backpack. But then the eighth grader realized it was for summer camp—at a place called Camp Redwood Glen.

She didn’t know anything about The Salvation Army and its camp programs.

“I just thought it would be fun—like a getaway from home situations,” said Brooklynn, now 15 and in high school in Ridgecrest, California. 

Ridgecrest Salvation Army Corps Officer Lt. Gina Noble had supplied the flyer—she provides camp information to all the local schools.

“I make sure if there’s a kid that wants this opportunity, at least they know about it,” Noble said. “And Brooklynn just happened to be the one who’s like, ‘I know nothing about this. But I’m going to try it.’”

Brooklynn has been in foster care most of her life. She said she is used to looking after herself and her younger sister. 

“I started being independent when I turned 7, with all the foster homes,” she said. “When my sister was only 2 and I was around 3, I had to take care of her. So I was more independent then, but I just started realizing it when I was 7.”

She saw camp as an opportunity to have fun—and decided she was going.

“I was so fixated on signing myself up,” Brooklynn said. “I just did it myself.”

Based on the application, Noble thought she was dealing with an adult until shortly before they departed for camp. And after seeing how much Brooklynn wanted to attend camp, her foster mom gave her permission.

“Brooklynn takes initiative for her life,” Noble said. “And she has to if she wants to get out of the house and do fun, good stuff.”

When she first got to camp she was surprised. “I didn’t realize it was a church camp until after I got there,” she said.

Brooklynn (far left) at Camp Redwood Glen with friends. Courtesy Gina Noble.

At first, she said she wasn’t so thrilled about it, since she hadn’t gone to church since she was 12. But then she said she began to like the camp chapel meetings.

She knew some of the kids there from middle school. And they hadn’t gotten along. With one, Diamond, she decided to make peace.

“I went up to her and said, ‘I’m sorry I was so mean to you,’” Brooklynn said. “We’re gonna be stuck here for a week with each other. Let’s put it aside and let’s get along. So that’s what we did. We actually became good friends.”

Brooklynn enjoyed the week so much she returned for a second week that summer. 

When camp season ended, Noble began connecting with Brooklynn regularly, offering her opportunities to get involved at the Ridgecrest Corps. Brooklynn helped with the corps’ summer day camp and with holiday events, attended the Golden State Divisional Youth Retreat, and now comes to the corps’ Sunday worship services.

Before long, a mentoring relationship began organically as Noble and Brooklynn met regularly, at first once a month. Brooklynn calls them “hanging out dates.” 

Lately, they’ve been hanging out once a week. Instead of formal meetings in an office, they might run errands together before doing something fun. The relaxed atmosphere makes conversation easy, and Brooklynn shares what’s happening at school and at home.

Recently Noble needed to stop at Walmart, and knowing Brooklynn needed some essentials like hair ties, mouthwash, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, she told her to add them to the shopping cart.

“I told her it’s OK. If you need these things, and they help you stay healthy, let’s just take care of it,” Noble said. “And then she looked at every single price and selected the item that cost the least in that category. How gracious is that?”

Noble encourages and affirms her, and helps her navigate challenges. Recently, Brooklynn spoke with her birth parents for the first time in 11 years. Separately, each plans to visit her this summer.

“We talked about that, and how, as an emerging adult, you get to have some choice in this relationship, in that you are more mature now,” Noble said. 

And this year, Noble said Brooklynn was the first person to sign up for camp.

The teen anticipates another fun camp season and perhaps eventually becoming a camp counselor. Her long-term plans include college, where she’s thinking of studying journalism, photography and criminal justice.

For Noble, the dates with Brooklynn are a highlight of her week.

“We get along really great,” Noble said. “Why not be present with an amazing teenager for an hour a week? It’s the best way to spend some time and change some lives.” 

Do Good:

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