The following article was published in the Alabama Episcopalian, the Diocese of Alabama’s quarterly magazine. If you would like to receive the Alabama Episcopalian in your mailbox, contact Kelley Hudlow at email@example.com.
At the end of the summer, Dashauna, a rising third-grade student at Greensboro Elementary School, wrote a reflection on her experience at Sawyerville Summer Learning: “My favorite class is science because we dance. My favorite field trip was the zoo because I saw a giraffe. Playing the whole game of chess was my favorite memory.” Dashauna sums up the highlights of Sawyerville Summer Learning—our students learned a lot in their academic classes, but they also had fun doing it. They took four field trips that broadened their horizons. And they were exposed to new skills like chess and swimming. Thirty-three students completed the four-week program, and on average, they gained 1.5 months of learning in math and advanced by 2.7 reading levels. We’re so proud of their hard work, and we’re grateful to the Diocese of Alabama for supporting this ministry.
This summer marked twenty-five years of Sawyerville Summer Camp here in the Diocese of Alabama. That’s twenty-five years of individuals and churches working together to create a safe place for children in Hale County to play, pray, and learn. The day camp began in 1993 on a Friday when members of the Black Belt parishes placed a sign on the community center door in Sawyerville, AL that read “Camp on Monday.” When they returned Monday morning, there were seventy-five children ready and waiting for camp. Clearly, these parishioners had discovered a deep need in the community, as well as a solution they could provide: camp.
The Rev. Rob Morpeth, one of Sawyerville’s founders, has been known to say that camps are part of our diocese’s DNA. From Camp McDowell to Special Session, Sawyerville to Foothills, camp is something we do well. Camps are an integral part of our children’s spiritual formation, and they provide opportunities for connection across the diocese. Twenty-five years ago, the good folks of the Black Belt decided to bring all that goodness to the tiny community of Sawyerville and to the children and youth of Hale County.
Since its inception, Sawyerville has grown by leaps and bounds, the kind of growth that can only be explained by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. While the first camp session had 75 campers, this past summer, we welcomed over 720 campers. We added the learning program in 2014, which now has the capacity to serve 40 rising third- and fourth-grade students. Our goal of improving race relations in Alabama has evolved into a race relations pilgrimage for youth and young adults called Person2Person, which takes place in Montgomery over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Several of our former campers who have grown up to become volunteer counselors requested help as they navigated their final years of high school. Sawyerville answered this request with Sawyerville Mentoring, and this year, we’ll connect six juniors and six seniors from Greensboro High School with not one, but two mentors who will coordinate job shadowing and college campus visits for them. Finally, in honor of Leslie Manning, who directed Sawyerville for nine years, we have created the Leslie Manning Scholarship Fund, which supports former campers and counselors seeking higher education, and this year, six young people each received a $1,000 scholarship.
All of these programs—Summer Camp, Summer Learning, Person2Person, Mentoring, and Scholarships—answer a need from the community, and they are all things that we, as a diocese, can do well with God’s help.
Creating and implementing these programs does require an immense amount of work. The kind of work that leaves you sweaty, tired, and happy. At Sawyerville, we frequently say, “many hands make light work.” That motto reminds us that yes, we have a lot of work to do; perhaps it seems insurmountable, but we can do it together, faster and better than if we tried it alone. When parishioners of all ages, parishes, and clergy work alongside members of the Hale County community, we can take on this important work that lifts up children and youth, glorifies God, and helps to build God’s kingdom here on Earth.
There are countless ways to be involved with Sawyerville. Here are just a few ideas of how you can join us, how you can help us make light work:
- Serve as a mentor to a junior or senior from Greensboro High School
- Coordinate a job shadowing experience or college campus visit for a junior or senior from Greensboro High School
- Volunteer to help at the annual Sawyerville Christmas Party at Greensboro Elementary School
- Collect supplies at your church, office, or school for one of our programs
- Serve a meal at one of our events—we have events year-round and serve groups of 20 to 120
- Invite Sawyerville to give a presentation to your Sunday school class or small group
- Spread the word about Sawyerville by sharing our social media posts or e-newsletters
- Give to Sawyerville—a gift of any size has a positive impact on the ministry
Visit our website, www.sawyerville.org, and reach out to Crystal Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Claire Cotten (email@example.com) to ask questions or to volunteer. As we gear up for a new program year, now is the perfect time to jump in with us.
Thank you to everyone who made our 25th year one of the best ever. Thank you to the volunteers, the donors, the supply collectors, the meal makers, bus drivers, teachers, and those who pray without ceasing. Each of you make this ministry possible.