When Charlotte Strowhorn of Gary first heard the idea of a summer camp providing not only escape, but also spiritual, educational and inspiration focus for children whose parents are in prison, she made it her own personal mission.
"I knew I'd need help and support to start our own version of this annual camp opportunity for Northwest Indiana," Strowhorn said.
"I decided I would seek assistance from my own faith and foundation to make this camp a reality, by turning to my church community."
Stowhorn, a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana, asked the Right Rev. Stewart S. Little II, bishop for the 36 episcopal churches in Northern Indiana, for help and guidance and by 2006, she had help to found Camp New Happenings.
And after two years of planning, research, writing grants and fund raising, an annual summer camp for children of incarcerated parents was launched as an ecumenical ministry sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana.
"Our first camp season was in 2008 and we had eight youths," said Strowhorn, who is welcoming this year's participants today at Camp Alexander Mack in tiny Milford, Ind., near Warsaw, Ind., for the start of the 2011 Camp New Happenings.
"The next year, in 2009, we had 27 children and last year, for 2010, we gathered 24 youths."
For this weekend's arrival of the 2011 Camp New Happenings, which begins today and concludes on Saturday, there are 32 children involved.
There is no cost at all to the parents and guardians and round trip transportation is provided from any location in Northern Indiana, spanning from anywhere in Northwest Indiana to South Bend and Fort Wayne, to as far south as Marion, Ind., and the surrounding areas.
Each year Strowhorn keeps busy ambitiously writing grants and fundraising to acquire the needed $10,000 required to run the one-week camp, which is always held at Camp Alexander Mack, since the property and staff are accredited by the American Camping Association.
"Although we are budgeted for 30 children, we would never turn a child away and we also accept siblings as long as they fall within the age range," said Strowhorn, who says it cost nearly $500 a child to cover all of the needed expenses, such as food, lodging, transportation and supplies for the week.
She said there are 21 such camps around the country and she's proud that her created camp experience of a staff of volunteers includes a one to four ratio to assure ample attention to the children, who come from diverse cultural backgrounds and range from ages 8 to 11. The staff consists of counselors, college students, arts and crafts instructors, chaplain, professional child behavior specialists, certified life guard and nurses, all managed by Moses Carter, who has served as the director of Camp New Happenings for the past four years.
Children who have at least one parent incarcerated in a State of Indiana or Federal facility are eligible to participate.
"We offer all of the activities normally associated with a summer camp, from starting the day with the Pledge of Allegiance to daily swimming and arts and crafts to sports, hiking, evening camp fires, cookouts, along with a non-denominational Christian education," Strowhorn said.
"And starting in 2010, Purdue University North Central began providing a program so each day a professor from such studies as biology, chemistry, earth and atmospheric sciences and astronomy provide instruction."
She said the Camp New Happenings board of directors is ecumenical and comprised of representation from throughout Northern Indiana. Strowhorn is the board president.
"We are always in need of donations, volunteers and support," Strowhorn said.
"There's lots of paperwork involved for both the children and our volunteers, but these are efforts that are very rewarding for everyone involved. I'm particularly grateful to Bishop Little, for all of the help and support he gives this program. One Sunday a month, all of our Episcopal churches ask for what's called a 'Prison Sunday Collection' to help raise money throughout the year."
Strowhorn said she also continues to learn at the camp each year.
"These children are so appreciative for the attention and time they are given during this one week," she said.
"And I've never seen children who are so happy and willing to eat all of the fresh prepared meals and snacks provided each day. From vegetables, fruits and cottage cheese to guidance and education, these children are hungry in many ways. And for some, at the end of the week, they don't want to return home to their everyday life."