View Full Version : Annual Camp Caritas provides guidance for children of inmates

06-21-2005, 10:27 AM

By LaReeca Rucker

CANTON About 1.5 million children in this country have a parent in jail, the federal Bureau of Justice reports.

That is why Gay Yerger, Phil Holt and the Rev. Beth Foose are providing an annual camp for Mississippi children who have at least one parent incarcerated.

They know that children often repeat patterns, following the footsteps of their parents, and want to make sure that the children who attend Camp Caritas of Mississippi forge their own path guided by positive reinforcement.

Twenty-eight children, 14 boys and 14 girls age 9-12, will attend the weeklong ecumenical camp that ends Friday at the Episcopal Conference Camp at the Duncan Gray Center. Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches sponsor the event, as well as the Big Brother Big Sister organization.

"The ministry grew out of the need of offering something to children whose parents were incarcerated," Yerger said. "We are trying to offer a safe, loving environment that teaches self-worth and teaches them to make good choices."

Foose designed the curriculum for the Camp Caritas program and Operation Unlock, a program sponsored by the city of Canton with the same goal.

"It's based on Montessori principals of education and understanding of children, as well as restorative justice practices," she said.

"Montessori beliefs are that children are full vessels," she said. "The camp is not about rescuing these children. It's about creating a safe environment that we believe every child needs, and nurturing those gifts."

Foose, who homeschools her own children, became involved with the program after being asked to write a curriculum for the Earth Lab at the Duncan Gray Center.

"I designed the camp based on seven qualities that researchers have shown that successful children have that criminals who wind up in the system don't have," she said.

The first is a perception of capability. Foose said it is important to let children know that they are capable of doing things.

Children are paired with mentors at camp who continue to follow their progress after they leave.

"The philosophy of the camp is really one where they can learn and take home skills," said Yerger. "We have a mentor who will follow this child after camp and meet with the child once a month. It's not just a one-time experience."

Holt, camp director, said he became involved with the camp when his wife did.

"My guess is there are thousands of children in this state whose parents are incarcerated. We provide some very special children an opportunity to have a marvelous week of new experiences in a loving and peaceful atmosphere," he said.