For 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.
CAMP TIPS FOR WORKING WITH INNER-CITY KIDS
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