Camp David of the Ozarks impacts children of incarcerated parents

A camp near Rolla is helping children of people who are incarcerated handle difficult issues and understand that their future belongs to them.

"[My dad] missed my first birthday. He missed a lot of things," One camper said.

Losing a parent to incarceration isn't easy, but Camp David of the Ozarks is helping kids rise above their circumstances.

Campers say Camp David helps them realize their parent's choices don't define them.

"I just like [helping at camp] because it keeps me busy. I don't have to do anything bad on the streets or anything," Support Staff Member Arieon said.

"You get to have best friends here and learn about God," an 11-year-old camper said.

The faith-based program instills values in the campers.

"Telling them what it means to follow Jesus, telling them about the Bible," Volunteer Tim Kanoy said.

Leaders show kids that they're loved.

"Todd was one of the people that always would listen and I liked being with him because he was nice. He played with me," One camper said.

The camp teaches kids that they, too, can change lives.

"It's changed me, so I come back so that I can help change their lives," Staff Member Will Robinson said.

Many staff members like Robinson and Yunis Maldonado were campers themselves.

"At the age of three, my dad went into prison," Maldonado said. "Since I have gone through it, you just know when they feel left alone, they just kind of exclude themselves. So, you just kind of want to bring them in, talk to them, just be their friend."

Camp David is impacting hundred of kids every summer, but there are still many children who are affected by incarceration. More than 20,000 kids in the state of Missouri have a parent behind bars.

"It's harder than actually losing, like to death, because they know they're there and they can't get to them," Beth Boeckstiegel said.

Boeckstiegel says when her husband went to prison, the camp provided support she and her son couldn't find elsewhere.

"When there's a death in the family, everybody surrounds you with gifts and food and helps you get through your sorrow and when you have someone go to prison, instead of surrounding you, they back away," Boeckstiegel said.

That's why the camp's founder and director says financial support keeps them running, but it is the people who impact these kids forever.

"They need shoulders to cry on, they need people who are going to be there for them when things are tough," Benjamin Smith said.

The camp is growing so much that it needs more volunteers. Smith says they need female counselors for next week.

You can also get involved in Camp David of the Ozarks ministry by donating money to sponsor campers, giving your time as a volunteer, or bringing your church group to help staff the camp. Visit www.campdavidozarks.org to learn more about these opportunities or call the camp office at 573.364.2786.