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Bethel Enrichment Center Summer Camp part of an ever-expanding ministry

KANNAPOLIS — It’s not easy to wrangle a group of 70 children on a field trip, but the staff and volunteers of Bethel Enrichment Center’s Summer Camp manage the process like a well-oiled machine.

So it seems they should: camp director Lois Hunter said that most days of the 10-week day camp are filled with trips out into the community.

“We try to go somewhere every single day for positive education as well as community experiences,” she said.

In the month and a half since this year’s camp began in mid-June, travel they have. They’ve made trips to local libraries and parks. They’ve splashed in creeks and paddled in pools, all with a group containing students ages four to 13.

The hope, said Hunter, is to make summer camp something that the kids enjoy rather than dread. She doesn’t want them to feel like they’re giving up their summer vacation, she said.

And the campers are eager to share their favorite experiences so far. Eight-year-old Jayden Morris spoke fondly of a trip to a splash pad. Ten-year-old Zion Martin said her favorite trip was a venture to Wendy’s — for the fries of course.

Lydia Scott, another ten-year-old camper, spoke of the campers’ time at Baker’s Creek Park, where they learned valuable lessons like not to put one’s feet in still water.

Still other campers like the days spent in the halls of Bethel Enrichment Center. Seven-year-old Kelsey Rucker spoke of “Health Day,” where the group participated in exercises like jumping jacks. Noah Adeoie, also seven, said he most treasured daily exercises in math.

“We actually combine math with fun facts and coloring,” he said.

Hunter explained: each day contains a “power hour,” where the students continue to work on reading and math throughout the summer months.

These trips and educational activities are offered alongside a full breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack — all for just $90 per week.

“We try to make it affordable for every parent that walks through that door,” said Hunter.

CEO of Bethel Enrichment Center Gerald Lundy said the main intention of the camp was to make a positive impact.

“We wanted to make sure this wasn’t a place where they just go, run all day and then go home,” he said. “We have an educational aspect to our program. These fun activities are helping them learn while they don’t even realize their learning, because they’re having so much fun.”

The biggest lessons? Respect, compassion and congeniality toward others, Hunter said.

“We don’t really just hound the kids on the rules,” she said. “We give them three rules at the beginning of the summer and those are the things we follow: responsibility, respect and being safe.”

The summer camp and the enrichment center are each offsprings of Kannapolis’ Bethel Baptist Church. Lundy said the enrichment center began when a new sanctuary was completed, leaving the church with a space not utilized.

So church members decided to start their own 501(c)(3) focusing on four tenants: crisis assistance; recreation, health and wellness; empowerment and education.

These tenants cover a wide array of bases: the center offers everything from classes on resumé writing to 16 scholarships annually throughout the community.

And then there’s the camp, which grew through a summer nutrition program.

“Kids started coming and they started staying because we have the gymnasium,” said Lundy. “Next thing you know, we had 70 kids running around in the gym. We weren’t ready for that.”

The summer camp came as a way to provide structure while keeping kids fed, educated and — in the words of Hunter — off the street.

Lundy said that each year the camp continues to grow, and each year the staff of Bethel Enrichment Center learns and strengthens their program.

The program’s success had led to needs, of course: monetary funding and donations of educational materials like curricula, working electronics, classroom furniture and more.

“We would love for money to come in and we’re working on that,” said Lundy. “We’re pursuing more grants now.”

Deborah Gill, part of the summer camp’s staff, credited the growth of the program to one secret ingredient: the camp’s caring and invested workers.

“We try to go the extra mile outside of the box to make sure each child is loved,” she said. “If we see them crying, we embrace them, love on them. … I think they know that we love them and that we really care.”

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