Bishop SmithMy Dallas Story
Empowering Local Families and Strengthening Communities One Camper at a Time
The most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the consumer price index for urban consumers in Dallas-Fort Worth, which had been trending downward, rose .3 percent through the months of June and July. This was driven by the food index, which increased 0.7 percent –all items less food and energy index fell 0.1 percent.
Stretching a dollar can be hard for everyone, particularly for families with children, and felt more acutely during the summer. From roughly mid-May through August, school-aged children aren’t guaranteed a mid-day meal and have what can feel like endless days of unstructured time. At best this results in an academic slide – when kids can forget critical academic and social skills; at worst, it’s a formula that adds up to trouble.
Bishop Clinton Smith knows this first-hand. Born and raised in Pleasant Grove, he got involved with gangs in the 1990s and went to jail. He says his was a single parent household and his mother created a good home, but trouble still found him. He wants to help families avoid the same path by keeping young people engaged and active — key to avoiding trouble and stemming the summer brain drain. That’s why eight years ago, he and his wife, Somer, started a summer camp run out of Praise Works Family Church, on Dorrington Road, in Southeast Dallas. It’s open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, from June to August.
“We just wanted to do something to help keep kids out of trouble, and give them some fun in a safe environment,” said Smith. They use the building strategically — keeping older and younger kids separated and creating activities best suited for each group. On the day the DRC visited, camp director, Jasmin Wilson explained the basic schedule and how the chapel would be used for field day.
“Anything we’re doing outside we do from drop-off to about 8:30 a.m.,” she said, a nod to the Texas heat. “We have activities for the little kids until lunch and then they take a nap. The bigger kids have a similar schedule, but no nap. On field day we’ll have things like a balloon relay, volleyball, and a talent show.”
Upstairs, teacher Breanna Flakes reviewed the recipe for chocolate chip cookies that the 11-to-16 age group would be baking. Measuring, working together, following directions – this requires shifting between cognitive functions, and learning how to communicate with each other. Flakes says she sees improvement from week to week.
“We had one boy last summer who came in a little angry sometimes and had trouble being part of a group. So, we worked with him – showed him how he could use his words to let people know if something was bothering him and if he needed some time alone. Now he communicates more.”
It’s not an exact science, but Praise Works is about progress, not perfection.
“A lot of our kids come with behavioral issues and don’t know how to channel what they feel,” said Wilson, adding that the first thing they do is listen, and then look for an opportunity to defuse the situation.
“We’ll sit in the kitchen and talk or sit at the table and color … eventually they forget.”
For many Americans, summer camp is a rite of passage – a place where friendships are forged while doing arts and crafts projects, learning a new skill, or hanging out in log cabins. According to the American Camp Association, which notes 10-thousand members on its website — more than 14-million children and adults take advantage of day- and overnight-camp experiences, which adds up to a roughly 3.6-billion-dollar industry. Cost per child, per summer, can easily run five- to six-thousand dollars.
Initially, Praise Works summer camp cost families just twenty dollars per child per week. This summer, with overall inflation still high, the cost was just $40 per head, per week. Seventy to 80 campers typically attend – many of them becoming familiar faces as they return each season. Wilson says that consistency builds trust and creates long-term bonds – not just during the summer months, but throughout the school year too.
“That’s the part that’s most fulfilling. In the spring we had so many high school graduation invites from kids who used to come here.”
The church describes itself as a ‘family-based ministry that exemplifies love and forgiveness.’ Families aren’t required to be part of the congregation to send their children to camp, but Wilson says more than a few have joined after getting to know the church through camp.
To keep it running, Praise Works depends on donations throughout the year from large corporations like Walmart, which gives things like water and school supplies; WinCo gives water as well, and Dickey’s BBQ donates gift cards to the staff. And of course, there are smaller but no less significant donations from congregation members – one of whom dropped off a pile of new blankets so that each younger camper has their own for nap time. The church is always looking for community partnerships with individuals as well — people to give their time for career day or just show the campers and congregation members something cool.
Contact information for Praise Works is available on the website.