Grandparents often live in different cities, children don’t run up and down the street visiting with senior neighbors sitting on porches, and generations are separated for many activities in the church.
Several years ago, Godwin Dixon, CEO of Presbyterian Communities and Services in Dallas, Texas, and I were sharing our love of camp with children, our dreams of ways to have the generations interact, and the reality that church camp is a primary place for Christian Education and “mountaintop” faith experience. Godwin thought retirement centers were perfect places for camp since the infrastructure — facilities, food, and healthcare are built in — as well as, of course, the adults who can share with children.
From this conversation, “Grace Day Camp” was born in summer 2009. For five full days, 18 First Presbyterian Church 4th – 6th grade children participated in the community at Grace Presbyterian Village. In 2010, the program added an additional week at Presbyterian Village North with children from NorthPark and Preston Hollow Churches. The relationships born during these weeks of camp are nurtured during the year through additional short visits or seeing residents who are members of our congregations at worship and lead to such excitement as children, senior residents, and staff look forward to the next year.
What are some of the highlights of the day camp?
» Eating lunch with residents in the dining room.
» Arranging flowers with residents for the center.
» Participating in “Gifts Hours” where residents teach small groups of children a skill or hobby including making fudge, knitting, storytelling, card playing, or a tea party, some of which take place in resident cottages.
» Singing and painting nails with residents on the Alzheimer’s unit.
» Leading bingo and bringing prizes of tissues, lotion, and hard candy.
» Learning about the facility through a scavenger hunt.
» Swimming in the Wellness Center pool and having a car wash for staff and residents.
» Leading morning devotions with song and skit for residents.
» Developing philanthropy project ideas to help improve life at the residence with help guidance from the development office.
» Participating in exercise class with residents.
» Decorating walker aprons together.
» Helping the kitchen staff by setting and clearing tables.
» Packing summer survival kits for the homeless.
» Visiting residents in small groups to hear their stories.
» Journaling and reflection time.
» Cooking out and sharing slideshow with residents and parents on Friday afternoon.
» Seeing smiles on the faces of residents as children “run” up and down the hallways all week greeting them and sharing their joy.
How do you go about planning such a camp?
» Identify a Retirement community in your area and meet with the Program Director and Chaplain to plant the seed and develop a relationship.
» Take a group of children for a short visit to introduce the children and center to the idea.
» Involve members of the church who live at the center or who make visits to the center, by asking them to identify folks to visit, gifts people might have to share, or who might be willing to help be adult sponsors with the children. Recruit youth assistants as well.
» Establish logistics and program including cost, transportation, meals and snacks, schedule, educational opportunities, recreational times, and all activities. (Include tips on visiting seniors in different stages.) Design a t-shirt that children, staff, and residents who participate can enjoy.
» Work with the staff to help identify seniors who have a gift they can share and arrange for supplies to be provided.
» Plan variety of activities, snacks, high energy and low energy activities, with seniors, for seniors, just for kids.
» Over plan and then go with the flow adapting on the fly.
» Be creative.
» Watch for God at work in small moments and prepare to be changed.
How could this concept be adapted?
» Plan one day event instead of five or half days (ours is 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., which helps working parents from a downtown church.)
» Join together with several churches in your community. (no more than 20 children is best but you could do it with even a handful.)
» Bring the senior adults and children to the church for the event.
» Hold the camp at an adult day care center instead of residence center.
» Arrange with a church in a neighboring town to host your group overnight if you don’t have a retirement center or nursing home nearby.
» Have children bring their lunch.
What are the joys?
» Seeing God’s love and grace through simple acts of touch or a smile.
» Senior adults and children relating.
» Partnerships between churches and Retirement or Nursing Centers.
» Hugs and smiles exchanged afterwards on Sunday mornings.
» Children unplugging from electronics and interacting with seniors.
One child described her experience this way:
Grace Presbyterian Village
Awesome, nice, pretty
(By Emma Saenz)
MIATTA WILSON is director of Children’s Ministries at First Church in Dallas, Texas. For questions about this program, or a sample schedule, contact her at the church.