Camp tips for working with inner-city kids

Topic / Training

Working with inner-city kidsFor several years now I’ve directed an Angel Tree camp for inner-city kids that’s arranged by some old college friends. We take one week in July or August to rent a Christian camp facility with money donated by government grants and just love on these kids. Most of them have never seen stars before and don’t know the difference between a horse and a cow, so being out in nature for a couple days is pretty life-changing for them. Our week of camp has experienced about 250% growth every year we’ve done it, which is awesome because each year we get to see more and more kids place their faith in Christ.

In 2005 I took several students in my youth group with me to help work as counselors (pictures here). Here are some of the tips I gave them for working with inner-city children. If you’re venturing to work with inner-city children for the first time, some of these might prove to be helpful for you, too.


1. Love on them, even when it’s tough. Set a Christlike example of Christian love.

2. Discipline! There’s no free time (too many fights occur with down-time), so take away minutes of swim time as consequences.

3. Campers are sent home for fights. No exceptions. We usually send one or two home during the first 24 hours. The rest shape up pretty quickly after that.

4. Be consistent and earn their respect. If you say something, make sure you follow through with it. No empty threats. (“If you don’t stop that there’s no dinner for you tonight!”)

5. Teams are split up differently every game in order to avoid any gang-like alliances.

6. They’re scared of the dark, even the teenagers. Be sensitive.

7. Never mention or talk about home with homesick campers. Avoid the H-word. Get them focused on all the fun things planned and remind them of all the fun activities they’ve enjoyed already.

8. NO racist or sexist comments, jokes or innuendos! Period.

9. Don’t try to act like an African-American or like a stereotype of them. Just be yourself. No “tough ghetto slang” talk.

10. Absolutely NO swearing. This includes “crap” and “sucks.”

11. Do not tease, make fun, or joke about another camper. See #1.

12. Show them respect. Listen to what they have to say. They have struggles and experiences you’ve never imagined. What can you learn from these children?

13. Being tired is not an excuse for slacking. There’s plenty of time for rest when the week is over. Give these kids 110% while learning to run on God’s strength.

14. Enforce sleep. Walk around the room at night until they’re all asleep and take swimming minutes for any talking/whispering/unnecessary noises.

15. Be tough, especially for the first couple days. I know this list might sound like it’s too hard on the kids, but they come from extremely hard city areas and will run you over if you’re not tougher than they are. Remember, you’re here to be their leader, not necessarily their friend. At the end of the week they’ll love you for it.

Posted on January 15, 2007

  • These tips helped me out a whole lot when I was a counselor to inner-city kids for the first time. I hope we can do another Angel Tree camp soon.

  • kellie

    I am looking to start a not-for-profit org that focuses on sending inner-city/lower socio-economic kids to camp in Houston. Could you give some more insite on the hows of screening kids, raising money, etc? How many years have you all sponsored the camp?


  • If I was interested in doing the same thing angel tree does but year around, how would I do that?

  • @Jeremiah: I’m not really sure. Maybe start by partnering with Angel Tree first?

  • courtney

    How could I be a counselor at Angel Tree this summer?

  • Fellow Counselor

    Ive worked with inner-city kids for 5+ years in many cities. I am also personally from the inner-city. Some of your generalizations are too broad.. no child is the same. To be productive, some of the passages that bothered me:

    (“If you don’t stop that there’s no dinner for you tonight!”) — I dont know if that was a joke? Many kids dont always have consistent food, NEVER joke or actually take away life necessities. Kids need to know that they have a right to food etc.

    5. Teams are split up differently every game in order to avoid any gang-like alliances. — really???? Is your assumption that inner-city kids MUST join gangs or pretend to be in them? Thats the stereotype your sending

    They’re scared of the dark, even the teenagers. Be sensitive.– "they" are all scared of the dark? Simple not true.

    9. Don’t try to act like an African-American or like a stereotype of them. Just be yourself. No “tough ghetto slang” talk. — This is okay except for the fact that many people from the inner-city are not black. Some of the most influential camp leaders are those that come from the same areas and can relate. Some of them talk "ghetto" and should not be marginalized for that. But i hear where you are coming from because I have met many white, suburban counselors who try to be someone they're not and end up insulting campers and leaders.

    I do appreciate your efforts :) This was just another perspective.

  • Offended

    This is INCREDIBLY offensive. The Bible says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged," and guess what, you're being incredibly, offensively judgmental about inner-city kids! You're never going to get their love or respect unless you treat them like every other kid that comes to your camp. STOP assuming that they're all going to form "gang-like" alliances, that they're all African American, or, absurdly, that they're "all afraid of the dark."

    This post is the absolute opposite of showing city kids respect. You should be incredibly ashamed of yourself and of your mission.

    • First of all, it says, "Judge not COMMA lest you be judged." It doesn't say not to judge PERIOD, just that when you judge you should be open to it from others… as you've done to me.

      Second, you obviously have a very different experience (or no experience at all) with the inner-city kids I spent years working with or your comment would not indicate such ignorance. This has nothing to do with judging.

      And as far as respect is concern, I have no respect for people who hide behind a computer screen using anonymous names to blast attacks at people. At least I am man enough to take ownership for what I say online.

  • Mss Anna

    I actually work at an inner city ministry as the children's director where we bus the kids in weekly, and I think most of these guidelines are greatly applicable. Just a few comments about what has been said from my own personal experience

    "Be sensitive they are afraid of the dark" I think I understand what you mean by being afraid of the dark. It's not offensive it's that regardless of color these children are afraid of the dark because at least where I live i am not afraid to drive through the projects in broad daylight windows open, radio turned up, doors unlocked. When it gets dark defenses go up. Because…what happens after dark parents come home the drugs and alcohol come out and that's when most bad things happen. Many people keep to themselves becasue they don't want to be involved. I agree these children have seen more than their fare share of violence. 4 year-olds should not know about the police and that they take mommies and daddies to jail.

  • Miss Anna

    Second, gang like alliances once again does not mean african american it's that people are like to form alliances when they spend a lot of time together, children included. It's a good idea in general I think to mix it up so that the children learn to work together. They have a tendency to fight already so we need to encourage them to treat each other right no matter what side of town they're from.

    As I said this is from my own experience. I think everyone needs to focus less on race and more on the FACT that these children need someone to genuinely LOVE them.

New eBookGo
Focused Youth Ministry ebook

85% off!

Focused Youth Ministry

This practical "how to" ebook will walk you through a 30-step process to discovering God's vision for your unique ministry context. The process also shows you how to implement that vision and put metrics in place to evaluate what is moving the vision forward and what isn't.

Price: $12.95 Limited time: $1.99