Camp Friendship in Mississippi: Changing Lives for Four Decades

Posted: 6/6/2014

Brother Larry JohnsonNear the town of Amory, Miss., tucked back in the woods about a mile off the highway, is a setting where one can experience an encounter with the sacred. Operated by Glenmary Home Missioners since the early 1970s, Camp Glenmary has been directed since 1994 by Father Tim Murphy, assisted by many young adults and college students who come from Mississippi—and from across the country—to serve as volunteers.

Camp Friendship—one of the programs held at Camp Glenmary—is actually two one-week camping experiences in which volunteers help children from low-income households in northeast Mississippi to participate in daily activities and share life and develop friendships with one another. (Following these weeks, the other two one-week sessions sponsored by Glenmary are called Catholic Camp, a chance for local Catholic youth—a very small minority in this area—to get to know one another and their faith.)

During the two weeks of Camp Friendship, the volunteers provide supervision and guidance in leading the children's activities. The youth are from economic backgrounds that prevent them from attending some of the more expensive summer camps offered in the state.

Having volunteered at Camp Friendship for 15 years, I have found that the lives of both children and service providers are significantly impacted by the experience. The activities provide a forum for the youth and leaders to develop relationship and teamwork skills, increase understanding of the importance of boundaries and fair play, and promote a sense of self-worth that grows out of personal accomplishment.

From the outset, the children are divided into groups, with each group creating a banner displaying the group's name. Before activities begin, all the groups participate in developing camp rules for behavior and conduct to ensure respect for one another.

Through athletics the children learn teamwork, sportsmanship, and a sense of their bodies' potential as well as their limits. Challenge activities help the children to work together and realize that cooperation enhances accomplishment of common tasks and goals. The arts-and-crafts sessions provide the opportunity for creativity and self-expression. I have witnessed how proud the youth are when they are successful and how they handle setbacks with the help of caring adults.

The relationships established as a result of these interactions at Camp Friendship are long-lasting. I experienced this connection when three young people whom I hadn't seen in 15 years returned to reminisce about their experience. Other former youth campers have also come back as adults to visit with counselors whom they had not seen for many years. These reunions are commonplace because of the positive bonds that develop at the camp—when the children's sense of self-worth, friendships with each other, and connections with counselors take shape and grow.

The chance to serve at this camp is just one example of many opportunities offered by Glenmary Home Missioners for ministry in the rural South. Working with local people for the common cause of serving and sharing life with the less fortunate through events like Camp Friendship helps bridge the separation between individuals, backgrounds, and denominations. Camp experiences have provided many people with a sense of God's presence in the relationships.

I am grateful for my years with Glenmary. Each of my various assignments have helped me develop my spiritual life and get a real sense of Christ through my encounters with others. I recommend taking the opportunity to have an experience different from everyday life through Glenmary's ministries, such as Camp Glenmary and Camp Friendship. The result of stepping out of one's comfort zone can be experiencing those moments of joy when we encounter God!

Visit the "Volunteer Opportunities" page on Glenmary Web site for more information on how you can become a Glenmary volunteer.