Trees. Fresh air. Learning how to swim. Heart-racing activities. Horseback riding. These are the fond memories that kids often have about summer camp. But for Richard, it’s different. “I felt like I was wanted there,” he says. “And I hadn’t exactly felt that in school because I was picked on a lot. But at camp I got along with everybody and everybody made me feel like I was supposed to be there.” As one of five siblings, camp for Richard was one place that felt most like home.
Richard was introduced to Christian summer camps after becoming involved in a nearby youth group. Camp was simply out of reach for his family, but thanks to generous UGM sponsors, Richard was able to attend. And thanks to a loving community, he thrived. Soon after he got acquainted with Inner Hope, a local organization that provides mentorship to at-risk youth in East Vancouver, and got serious about his faith. When he was 14, Richard chose to get baptized. When Richard returned to camp with friends from Inner Hope, he was accidentally placed in a separate cabin. Anxiety set in initially, but the strangers in his cabin embraced him. “They immediately talked to me as if I was their best friend,” he remembers. “I definitely felt God’s love there.”
“I love what you guys do, sending kids to camp. I can guarantee you, they will not forget it!”
That love kept him coming back year after year. Richard explains that he can’t even imagine what life would have been like without those summer weeks. “Honestly I’m scared to think about where I’d be without camp or without those friends,” he says. “Especially at a time where I didn’t have many friends. I never felt loved, at all. It wasn’t until camp where I realized that there are people capable of loving to that extent. Without that I honestly wouldn’t know how to love myself.”
Camp made Richard intentional about pursuing life-affirming relationships, setting goals for himself, and developed his confidence. Having graduated in June, he has hopes to attend a year-long Christian ministry program to further his love for building authentic connections with people. “For me, it doesn’t matter where I am,” he says. “I just want God to use me to change people’s lives wherever I am.” But first, he has one last summer to be a camper, which he plans on using wisely. “In Micah 6:8 it says to walk humbly, love mercy and to seek justice. I feel like there’s no better place to practice that than at camp.”