Mobile, Ala. (WALA) – Smiles and giggles filled The Salvation Army bus Monday morning as around ten local children were heading off to Salvation Army summer camps at Hidden Lake in Lexington, Mississippi.
“I’m 100 percent excited!” said Destini Buchanan, 7, as she held up her fingers miming one-zero-zero to show just how much she meant. This is Destini’s second year to attend the Sunbeam Camp, a badge-earning week of activities for girls in first through fifth grade. She’s looking forward to trying ziplining this year, “because I’ve never been on a zipline before.”
Destini’s older brother Joshua Buchanan, 9, is looking forward to fishing on the lake. “Last year I think I caught a turtle, but it let go,” he explained. Joshua will attend the Explorer Camp, a similar style camp for boys. He also enjoys the thrill of the ropes course, “You go from rope to rope, and get higher and higher!”
Also on the bus was their cousin Alex Woods. He will get to spend an entire month attending the Music and Arts Conservatory camp for teenagers. And this 14-year-old isn’t ashamed of admitting that he gets more out of camp than just fun and food.
“I look forward to worshiping the Lord and learning more about God. It’s my favorite part,” said Woods. “I’ve been looking forward to this since school started. That’s how much I love camp. It’s special.”
But for all of these children, a month or even a week at summer camp would not be possible without The Salvation Army. They get to attend free of charge to their parents, something Lavern Cook and her husband Virgil Smith are grateful for as their daughters Samiah, 6, and Emily, 10, head off to Sunbeam Camp.
“The experiences they get, we would never be able to financially afford. It means a lot to us,” explained Cook.
Although they both work full-time jobs – Lavern as an armed guard and Virgil as an inventory specialist – they don’t have the extra money to afford something special like this.
“I cannot explain how excited they’ve been. We have not slept! They’ve been counting down the days until camp for the last month,” said Cook.
Samiah was smiling ear to ear as she walked up with her sleeping bag between her arms and her suitcase rolling behind her. She’s heard about camp for years from her older sister, and finally she’s getting her first camp experience.
“I packed my snacks, and my clothes, and my swimming suit, and my shoes, and my flip flops!” explained Samiah.
“It’s fun! My favorite part is the pool. We get to swim a lot, and sometimes we have night swimming parties,” explained Emily.
The Salvation Army offers a variety of camps at Hidden Lake throughout the summer for different age levels and different interests. This year 20 children from Coastal Alabama will have the opportunity to attend with kids from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Some camps will focus on adventure, some on earning badges, some on sports, some on music. But they all give children a chance to escape their everyday worries, and learn new and exciting life skills.
“Emily has been going for five years. She always comes back a little more grown up. Every year, it makes a difference in her. So I know our baby girl will enjoy it this year, too,” said Virgil.
Camp costs $200 per child to the local Salvation Army unit – which covers their cabin lodging, meals, snacks, insurance, and activity supplies. The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama is needing community donations to help cover that cost.
“Camp is such a wonderful experience for these children, and most of them wouldn’t get the opportunity at all,” explained Major Susan Brown, Associate Area Commander. “But donations have been sparse during the summer months, and we need help to give these kids hope.”
YOU CAN HELP
To help The Salvation Army send children in need to summer camp, you can donate online at www.SACoastAL.org; Call 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769) to donate by credit card; Or send your check or money order made out to The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama, 1009 Dauphin Street, Mobile, Ala. 36604.