The Brave Space Visits The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Recently, I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) with Sawyerville mentees, mentors, and Person2Person alumni! During our introductions, each participant shared the last time they visited the BCRI. Some of us live, or have lived, in Birmingham, and the consensus was that it had been several years since anyone visited. It’s interesting that we drive and walk by parks and museums and areas of town that hold history someone spent time, money, and resources to ensure we never forget. 

I think the danger in dismissing the importance of visiting monuments and memorials in your city is forgetting that groups of people were abused and mistreated and killed. I think we allow ourselves to get so far removed from a time when we couldn’t go to school with different races, when it was illegal for black men and women to vote, or we couldn’t even use the same water fountain. The beauty in going back to the past is being reminded of why I use my voice in local, state, and national elections. I’m reminded of why I won’t isolate myself from relationships with people who refuse to acknowledge the work that race plays in my life. Ultimately, the reminder is,  “Never again.”  Whether you spend a day visiting monuments and museums, reading a race relations book, getting involved in a grassroots organization, or starting a small group at your church…do the work. 

If you’ve never been to the BCRI or if it’s been a while since your last visit, take this as a sign that it’s time to go. Learn more about their Covid-19 guidelines, hours of operation, and ticket prices here.

Introducing the 2021 Interns!

We are so excited to host Summer Camp and Summer Learning again this year! In order to meet COVID-19 guidelines, we’ll offer Summer Camp at half capacity. In an effort to meet the needs of students and to align with the Alabama Literacy Act, we’ll expand Summer Learning to include not only rising first- and second-grade students, but also rising third-grade students. We’re expecting 360 campers and 60 students in total over the course of the summer. It won’t be exactly “normal,” but it will be great!

We’ve hired a top-notch team of interns to help make this summer the best one yet. These young people come from all over the state, and they will bring a wealth of experiences, gifts, and talents to Summer Camp and Summer Learning. Without further ado, we proudly introduce the 2021 Summer Interns!


Hakeem Bennett

Role: Summer Camp Lower Camp Co-Coordinator

Hometown: Greensboro, AL

If Hakeem owned his own factory, it would make: designer shoes

Hakeem is looking forward to: Being able to actually intern in person and enjoy others company to meet a common goal.


Ella Cobbs

Role: Summer Camp Middler Camp Co-Coordinator

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Ella lived in a board game, it would be: Candy Land

Ella’s favorite quotation: “We grow in kindness when our kindness is tested.” — Desmond Tutu


Carrie Dennis

Role: Sawyerville Communications Manager

Hometown: Selma, AL

If Carrie owned her own factory, it would make: coffee creamer

Carrie is looking forward to: Everything! I’m sure I can speak for everyone in the Sawyerville community when I say I miss camp, and getting to connect once again with campers and staff this summer will be amazing!


Coleman Dorlon

Role: Summer Camp Upper Camp Co-Coordinator

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Coleman lived in a board game, it would be: Settlers of Catan

Coleman’s favorite quotation: “The goal in life is not to live forever, but to create something that will.” — Juice Wrld


Caroline Ferry

Role: JumpStart Student Registrar

Hometown: Tuscaloosa, AL

If Caroline owned her own factory, it would make: sweaters

Caroline is looking forward to: I can’t wait to see all the kids, learn with them, and hang out with this amazing staff!


Claire Kimberlin

Role: Summer Camp Upper Camp Co-Coordinator

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Claire lived in a board game, it would be: Chutes and Ladders

Claire’s favorite quotation: “What’s normal anyways?” — Forrest Gump


Katherine Kimberlin

Role: Sawyerville Head Photographer

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Katherine owned her own factory, it would make: candy

Katherine is looking forward to: I am so excited to be back and to see all of the campers and staff again and to help make this summer the best summer ever! I honestly just can’t wait to see everyone since it has been so long since we’ve all been together laughing and having fun!!


Maggie Logan

Role: Sawyerville Staff Registrar

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Maggie lived in a board game, it would be: Pretty Pretty Princess

Maggie’s favorite quotation: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end” — John Lennon


Libba Manley

Role: Summer Camp Lower Camp Co-Coordinator

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Libba owned her own factory, it would make: cakes

Libba is looking forward to: I am so excited for this summer! I can’t wait to be in person for camp this year, and hang out with all the amazing people!


Lilly Martin

Role: Sawyerville Meals Coordinator

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Lilly lived in a board game, it would be: Apples to Apples

Lilly’s favorite quotation: “I eat blueberries whenever I can I can get ’em” — Flea


Billy Meadows

Role: Summer Camp E² (Experiments and Explosions) Coordinator

Hometown: Auburn, AL

If Billy owned his own factory, it would make: more factories

Billy is looking forward to: I’m excited to help do my part in giving the kids the best summer possible!


Deontae Patterson

Role: Summer Camp Camper Registrar

Hometown: Greensboro, AL

If Deontae lived in a board game, it would be: Battleship

Deontae’s favorite quotation: “Now that’s what I call quality H20” — Bobby Boucher


Maxie Sansom

Role: Summer Learning Student Registrar

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Maxie owned her own factory, it would make: water bottles

Maxie is looking forward to: I cannot wait to worship, sing, laugh, and dance with campers and staff again!


Anna Shaddix

Role: Sawyerville Staff Registrar

Hometown: Pell City, AL

If Anna owned her own factory, it would make: airplanes

Anna’s favorite quotation: “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.” — Dolly Parton


Winston Smith

Role: Summer Camp Middler Camp Co-Coordinator

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Winston lived in a board game, it would be: Candy Land

Winston is looking forward to: I am so excited to get to spend my summer in Greensboro with so many amazing people including interns, staff, and the awesome campers.


Canon Tidwell

Role: Summer Learning Activities Coordinator

Hometown: Huntsville, AL

If Canon owned his own factory, it would make: bumper stickers

Canon is looking forward to: I’m super excited be back in person and plan the activities for summer learning!


Grace Turner

Role: Sawyerville Programs Coordinator

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Grace owned her own factory, it would make: hats

Grace is looking forward to: I am excited to play a role in putting on everyone’s favorite part of the summer — Summer camp!!


Mary Alison Turner

Role: Summer Learning Manager

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Mary Alison had her own factory, it would make: Icee machines

Mary Alison’s favorite quotation: “I ain’t here for a long time, I’m here for a good time”— George Strait


Evie Whitsett

Role: Summer Camp Camper Registrar

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

If Evie owned her own factory, it would make: hoodies

Evie’s favorite quotation: “Eyes open, hearts loud.” – Anis Mojgani

The Brave Space Reads “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

America is an old house. We can never declare the work over. Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation. When you live in an old house, you may not want to go into the basement after a storm to see what the rains have wrought. Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see. 

We in the developed world are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside, but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting away for decades, centuries even. Many people may rightly say, “I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked indigenous people, never owned slaves.” And, yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures built into the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.

Unaddressed, the ruptures and diagonal cracks will not fix themselves. The toxins will not go away but, rather, will spread, leach, and mutate, as they already have. When people live in an old house, they come to adjust to the idiosyncrasies and outright daggers skulking in an old structure. They put buckets under a wet ceiling, prop up groaning floors, learn to step over that rotting wood tread in the staircase. The awkward becomes acceptable, and the unacceptable becomes merely inconvenient. Live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal. Exposed over the generations, we learn to believe that the incomprehensible is the way that life is supposed to be. 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

We’re putting glue inside of foundational cracks, and throwing wallpaper on the walls where water has rotted the frame. Rather than getting to the root of the issue, we’ve allowed the narrative of a post racial society to play out and many have believed it to be true. The cracks and fissures have been in our house, it is not new that our basement is filled with water, nor did the ceiling just cave in. The killing of black and brown people by police officers didn’t start last year. The reality our that schools are predominantly one race or another has been there. The fact that we are still living with a generation of people who only went to school with people who looked like them due to Jim Crow is a reality. 

I recently finished Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. As I read through, there were many moments I journaled to process my emotions and sticky notes stuck to pages to mark stories I never want to forget. This book focuses on the ills of our society relating to race, or caste, as you will learn more about when you read. 

Images from https://www.isabelwilkerson.com/
Images from https://www.isabelwilkerson.com/

There is a line in the excerpt above that I want to highlight. When I was reading I stopped at this line, and I want to share some of the notes I made in my book {resources added for deeper reading}…

“Live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal.”

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

At the beginning of the century, we learned that 1 in 3 black boys and 1 in 6 Latino boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. Compare that to 1 in 17 white boys.1...live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal.

In Alabama, we have 2 school district borders that mark the starkest gaps in student poverty rates. They rank among the “The 50 Most Segregating School District Borders” in our country2live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal.

We have allowed color-blind ideology to keep us from honest conversations on racial disparities and have denied the legacy of historical practices in our society…live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal.

Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. This increases to 4 to 5 times as likely for black women over 30.3live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal.

When citizens called for the removal of confederate statues in our parks and on public squares, Alabama passed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act to prevent local governments from removing statues that celebrate the wrong side of history…live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal.

Due to redlining, a city planning practice in the 40’s and 50’s, school systems in our country are still segregated. In 2010, it was reported that “schools are more segregated today than they were forty years ago, but this is mostly because the neighborhoods in which schools are located are so segregated. In 1970, the typical African American student attended a school in which 32% of the students were white. By 2010, this exposure had fallen to 29%”4live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal.

As you read, and I really hope you do, I encourage you to take moments to process what you’re reading and the emotions you’re experiencing. I have so many notes that were written with tear-brimmed eyes, because I was so overwhelmed with emotions at times. I read this book alone, but I would encourage you to read it along with someone else. Discuss what you’re reading and ask one another the hard questions. If those around you would rather not read a book, I would love to discuss and process with you.

It is all too easy to imagine that the Third Reich was a bizarre aberration,” wrote the philosopher David Livingstone Smith, who has studied cultures of dehumanization. “It is tempting to imagine that the Germans were (or are) a uniquely cruel and bloodthirsty people. But these diagnoses are dangerously wrong. What’s most disturbing about the Nazi phenomenon is not that the Nazis were madmen or monsters. It’s that they were ordinary human beings.”

It is also tempting to vilify a single despot at the sight of injustice when, in fact, it is the actions, or more commonly the inactions, of ordinary people that keep the mechanism of caste running, the people who shrug their shoulders at the latest police killing, the people who laugh off the coded put-downs of marginalized people shared at the dinner table and say nothing for fear of alienation of an otherwise beloved uncle. The people who are willing to pay higher property taxes for their own children’s schools but who balk at taxes to educate the children society devalues. Or the people who sit in silence as a marginalized person whether of color or a woman, is interrupted in a meeting, her ideas dismissed (though perhaps later adopted), for fear of losing caste, each of these keeping intact the whole system that holds everyone in its grip.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

What will it look like when more and more Americans refuse to live with injustice in their schools and communities, refuse to live with police brutality against black and brown men, refuse to live with the reality that black and brown men are seen as violent and uneducated? I wonder how much longer we will allow the atrocities and the murders to continue. How much longer will we allow our classrooms to be homogenous? How much longer will we not speak up?

We are not personally responsible for what people who look like us did centuries ago. But we are responsible for what good or ill we do to people alive with us today. We are, each of us, responsible for every decision we make that hurts or harms another human being. We are responsible for recognizing that what happened in previous generations at the hands of or to people who look like us set the stage for the world we now live in and that what has gone before us grants us advantages or burdens through no effort of fault of our own, gains or deficits that others who do not look like us often do not share.

We are responsible for our own ignorance or, with time and openhearted enlightenment, our own wisdom. We are responsible for ourselves and our own deeds or misdeeds in our time and in our own space and will be judged accordingly by succeeding generations.  

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

We are in need of one another more than we have been led to believe.

Caste: The Origins Of Our Discontents

1 https://www.aclu.org/issues/smart-justice/mass-incarceration

2 https://edbuild.org/content/fault-lines/full-report.pdf

3https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0905-racial-ethnic-disparities-pregnancy-deaths.html

4 “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America”, Richard Rothstein

Additional Resources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bP0m0jKORwg – Isabel Wilkerson, “Caste” (with Bryan Stevenson)

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/caste-isabel-wilkerson/id1529009628?i=1000490015934 – Oprah’s Book Club: Caste: Isabel Wilkerson 

Summer 2021 is good to go!

We are thrilled that we will be able to host Summer Camp, Summer Learning, and JumpStart this year! To do this safely, we will offer Summer Camp at half capacity and Summer Learning and JumpStart at full capacity.

At Summer Camp, each of the three one-week sessions will welcome 120 campers and 36 high school staff. The three age groups (Lower Camp for 6-8 year-olds, Middler Camp for 9-11 year-olds, and Upper Camp for 12-13 year-olds) will each have 40 campers and 12 high school staff per session.

At Summer Learning, we will teach 40 rising first- and second-grade students. And at JumpStart, we will serve 18 rising Kindergarten students.

During the day, campers, students, teachers, and staff will follow social distancing guidelines, wear masks, and sanitize their hands regularly. Each morning, campers will have their temperature taken either when they board the school bus or when they arrive on campus. Staff will clean the facility routinely throughout the day.

After campers and students leave each day, high school staff will continue to follow safety guidelines. Staff will also be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive on Saturday for staff training and again throughout the session. We hope to create a “bubble” so that staff members feel comfortable spending time together.

Camper applications and staff applications are now open online!

Campers will be given a spot at camp on a first-come-first-serve basis. We will do our best to ensure that all the children in the same household will be able to attend the same session. We anticipate that there will be a waiting list this year.

For staff, because we have limited space, we will review applications carefully and work to create a staff that is diverse in gender, age, race, and hometown. We also anticipate a waiting list for staff this year.

We’ve decided not to go swimming in Marion this summer. Swimming is such an important part of the camp experience, and we’re sad that it’s not possible this year. We are working to create a fun alternative water activity for the end of each session.

We will need help from parishes with meals and supplies! For staff dinners, rather than having groups come to Greensboro to cook, we’re asking that churches sponsor a catered meal from a local restaurant. We’ll have three levels of sponsorship to reflect different staff sizes. For supplies, we will need more cleaning supplies than usual. We’re still figuring out exactly what our needs will be—more info is coming soon!

One thing we know for sure is that this plan will probably change in some way between now and June! Please stay flexible with us and keep this summer’s programs in your prayers. If you have questions or concerns regarding COVID-19 and this summer’s programs, please contact Crystal Jones at crystal@sawyerville.org.

The Brave Space

On June 19th of last year, I stood at Kelly Ingram Park for a Juneteenth celebration, a day “commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, and has been celebrated by African-Americans since the late 1800s.” We stood on the same land where civil rights demonstrations and rallies happened 60 years ago. At the beginning of the celebration there was lots of line dancing, good music filling the air, and people of different races at this celebration. There came a moment during the event when individuals had the opportunity to express themselves—through song, spoken word, speeches, performances. There is one particular moment that will forever be etched on my soul. A 50-60 year-old black man took the stage. He wore a black shirt and jeans. Nothing really stood out at first, but when he opened his mouth the park fell silent. He had everyone’s attention.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self‐evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!…”

I, like everyone else in the park, was captivated by the authority in his voice and the close resemblance to Martin Luther King Jr’s voice. It was a moment when chills covered my entire body. 

As I listened to him, tears filled my eyes as the reality of this celebration set in. How incredibly exciting, the joy this day brought. Only moments ago we were laughing and dancing and doing the Cupid Shuffle. For me, this was the shift. I became so disheartened of how this echoed the same cry for equal justice 67 years ago and also in 2020. I was reminded of why we were there. It was more than a celebration. It was a call to action. We had recently watched headline after headline and video after video of the tragic killing of George Floyd. Some of us watched the video, some couldn’t stomach the footage, and others tried to pretend it didn’t happen and justice was served. For so many of us, “I can’t breathe” made its way to our Instagram stories, it started conversations with friends that had never happened before. Collectively, the cry, “never again” attached itself to our conversations and our thoughts. We watched with horror as a cop kneeled his knee into George Floyd’s neck as he uttered the words, “I can’t breathe”.


Welcome to The Brave Space, Sawyerville’s new blog series on race. I’m Breanna Mitchell, and I serve as the Summer Learning Coordinator on Sawyerville’s year-round staff. I’ll be your guide in this Brave Space. 

I wanted to start this series with that story of my experience at a Juneteenth celebration, because there is urgency in the air. There are some people who have let the fire die down, if that’s you, this series is for you. There are others who are still educating themselves and leaning into uncomfortable conversations, if that’s you, this series is for you. There are even some who, despite all the tragedies in 2020, fail to see the systemic racism that is etched into every part of our county, if that’s you, this series is also for you. 

I don’t know the impact this blog—the book recommendations, my internal dialogue on paper for others to read—will have. I hope this space is one of healing. A place of love. A place of deeper understanding. A space of learning what life is like for others across racial lines. 

“In order to empathize with someone’s experience you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be.” 

Brené Brown

History is being written, and I want to be on the side of learning and loving, even when it’s hard and I’m uncomfortable. I want to be on the side of history where love prevails, and compassion reigns supreme. 

I can promise my personal commitment to do the work. Even as a black woman, I’m learning and unlearning. I’m leaning into the uncomfortable spaces. I’m reflecting on my own experiences with racial injustices. I’m doing this work because like many of us, I was taught a history that doesn’t give the full story of the United States of America. 

So, I invite you to this Brave Space. 

“Together we will create a brave space because there is no such thing as a ‘safe space’ — We exist in the real world. We all carry scars and we all have caused wounds. In this space we seek to turn down the volume of the outside world, we amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere, we call each other to more truth and love. We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow. We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know. We will not be perfect. This space will not be perfect. It will not always be what we wish it to be but it will be our brave space together, and we will work on it side by side.”

Mickey ScottBey Jones

Sawyerville is a beautiful community, and I’m excited to grow and learn and unlearn together. There are many things I want to leave in 2020 and not really think or deal with again, but the fight to improve race relations in Alabama isn’t one of them. 

So, welcome. 

Welcome to The Brave Space.

Person2Person Youth Program Team

We are so excited to introduce the Youth Program Team for Person2Person 2021! This team  will lead a group of their peers in group discussions, nightly worship, prayer, and more! To learn more about them, keep reading below! 

Maleka Cox

School: Senior at Greensboro High School

Favorite Thanksgiving food: Candied Yams

How has Person2Person made a difference: Person2Person has made me look at life so differently! I remember being scared to make new friends, try new things, & even scared to talk about racial topics! But with the help of Sawyerville and the new friends I made, I overcame those obstacles and many more each day.

Mary Virginia Huffaker

School: Senior at Montgomery Academy

Favorite Thanksgiving Food: Green bean casserole! I could eat that all day! 

How has Person2Person made a difference: Person2Person has allowed me to discuss the topic of racism in Alabama with the different perspectives from around the State so that I can make more informed opinions and learn how to be more anti-racist. 

JaMya McCreary

School: Senior at Greensboro High School

Favorite Thanksgiving food: Dressing, Ham, and Candied Yams

How has Person2Person made a difference: Person2Person has made a difference in my life because it helped me see and learn racism a bit differently than how others used to look at it. It also has made a huge difference in my life because I get to explore and look at the things that have been going on before I was born. The museum that I attended while in Person2Person was really awesome! 

Stewart Miller

School:  Senior at Montgomery Academy 

Favorite Thanksgiving food: Either cornbread souffle or pecan pie

How has Person2Person made a difference: Person2Person has widened my horizons and allowed me to meet some incredible people. Person2Person has given me the unique opportunity to sit down and be vulnerable with others. The culture and atmosphere of Person2Person is extremely conducive to promoting healthy and productive dialog aimed at alleviating racial tensions within Alabama– something that is dearly needed now more than ever.  Without Person2Person, my worldview would not be nearly as broad as it is right now.

KaLynn Patterson

School: Senior at Greensboro High School

Favorite Thanksgiving food: Deviled Eggs or Baked Chicken

How has Person2Person made a difference:  Person2Person has made a difference in my life. Listening to responses from the brief conversations we’ve had in the past years moved me and made me want to have a change in my community!

Halyn Thomas

School: Senior at Greensboro High School 

Favorite Thanksgiving food: Macaroni and cheese

How has Person2Person made a difference: Person2Person has made a difference in my life by opening my eyes to many things that go on in my race and other ones as well. It also helped me expand my social circle by allowing me to meet other great minds. 

Aaron Wiggins

School: Junior at Greensboro High School

Favorite Thanksgiving food: Turkey and dressing with macaroni and cheese

How has Person2Person made a difference: Person 2 Person has made a difference in my life such as meeting different individuals, learning about race and visiting the different historical monuments. 

Thank you, Liza Lee!

Liza Lee Horton has been a friend of Sawyerville for many, many years. At the end of 2020, she will conclude her time as the Chair of the Junior Board, a group she founded. We are so thankful for her hard work, creativity, and dedication to this ministry! Read on to learn more about the creation of the Junior Board and Liza Lee’s dreams for the future of Sawyerville.

What was your first connection to Sawyerville?

My first connection to Sawyerville was serving on staff in high school. I was immediately hooked.

You created the Sawyerville Junior Board! How did you come up with the idea and how did you get it started?

I wanted to stay connected to Sawyerville once serving on summer staff was no longer a regular option once I graduated graduate school and got my first full-time gig. I knew there were others like me who wanted to stay involved at this age so I sat down with Claire and Crystal to brainstorm and the Sawyerville Junior Board was born.

What have you most enjoyed about serving as the Junior Board Chair? Will you miss anything about this role?

The best part of chairing the junior board has been watching many people join year after year. The future of this group is BRIGHT!

What are your wildest dreams for the Junior Board?

I hope one day that the Junior Board brings a meal to the full staff and raises a large amount annually.

What do you love about Sawyerville? What has kept you involved over the years?

I love how Sawyerville is a true community. Kids who come through camp come back and serve on staff along with youth from all over the diocese. You are never too old to be a part of this awesome community.

Youth Sunday Sermon by Caroline Ferry

Back in the spring, Caroline Ferry, a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Tuscaloosa and a veteran Sawyerville Summer Camp staff member, gave the sermon on Youth Sunday. In it, she talks about her experiences at Sawyerville. Enjoy!

Whenever I go to a new place and pass by an Episcopal church, I get so excited. The cemetery where Alexander Hamilton was buried, the historic Christ Church in Philadelphia that was attended by the Founding Fathers, the National Cathedral in D.C., or any other place marked by our shield. Even when I pass a car with the sticker, I imagine that we have some telepathic connection by being Episcopalian. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I know that those churches are places where I can go and be welcomed. That’s what I love most about the church. The overwhelming understanding that all are welcome. The doors of an Episcopal church are always open, barring a global pandemic of course.

It’s hard to imagine what my life would have looked like if it hadn’t been spent with the church. So many of my defining moments, best friends, and favorite memories were made through this parish and the diocese. How would I have spent my summers if I wasn’t at Camp McDowell? What would I have done with all of those weekends if they weren’t spent at Happening and other diocesan retreats? What would I do during the hours spent at Sunday Eucharist, choir rehearsal, and EYC? I’m so grateful that I never had to find out. Thank you to everyone who has shown me how special this church is and what it means to follow Christ. To name a few, Father David, Reverend Catherine, Katherine Gould, and all of the youth ministers and interns, especially, Hannah, Logan, Kathleen, Jesse, Kennedy, and Mary Alison, who are all part of the reason I wanted to stay active in the church. Of course I am thankful for my parents who forced me to go to church on Sunday mornings and my siblings who have given me so many opportunities to practice patience. I’m most thankful for the parish as a whole; for being a constant in all of the craziness of life, even during times like this. I can only hope that I’ve been at least a fraction of the role model that people like Cammie and Mary Margaret were for me and that I am able to continue contributing to communities like this one in the future. No matter where I am, I want to create for others the same love and welcoming that I have grown up surrounded by. 

One ministry of the diocese in particular had a huge impact on my relationship with Jesus and God. Two summers ago, I spent a week at Sawyerville Day Camp as a counselor in lower camp. If you’re not sure what Sawyerville is, it’s a ministry of the diocese which aims to “ serve God, broaden the horizons of participants and staff, improve race relations in Alabama, and enrich the lives of those living in poverty.” One of their programs is Summer Camp, which offers three sessions in the summer for 6-13 year olds in Hale County. If I were ever assigned the task of explaining love to an extraterrestrial being, Sawyerville is where I would send them. Through all of the exhaustion and difficulties, God’s light shines brighter than ever there. From the biscuits in the cafeteria of Greensboro Elementary school to the bus taking us to the pool at Marion Military Academy and back. You spend one day there, and you just get it. 

One of my campers in particular impacted me in a way that I will never forget. He was only 7 years old, but throughout the week, he had been so angry. He went from not talking at all, to the rare, grunted response, despite all of my efforts to get to know him. I tried to play, dance, talk, and sing with him, and he seemed not only miserable, but like he hated me. But as every other counselor there does, I was persistent in trying to make sure he had fun. One day, I had to send him to the lower camp “co-co” for saying some non-lower-camp-friendly words to me (which is the equivalent of getting sent to the Principal’s office). I was sure that it was the final nail in the coffin of any chance I had at him liking me. As everyone was leaving family night, which is when all the campers come back with their families to hang out one last time, the kid came up to me while we were playing outside. I squatted down to talk to him, and before I knew it he had tackled me to the ground in a hug. He didn’t say anything, but he was crying a little as he gave me the first smile I had seen from him all week. After everyone left, the staff had our daily rest time. Laying on that classroom floor, half asleep and drooling onto my backpack-turned-pillow, I had never felt more alive. 

That moment was the purest love and joy I have ever experienced. When I forget what it means to love like Jesus or I’m stressed about one thing or another, all I have to do is think about that hug and I know everything will be okay. The gospel today talks about Jesus being our gatekeeper, or as he puts it, “ I come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The only way to truly live is through him and by his love. But what does it mean to live? Jesus wanted us to do more than express our love to one another with words and hugs. His kind of love isn’t passive, so we too must be active. That’s part of why Sawyerville has been so powerful in my life and many others. It’s why when I came back the next year, that boy was smiling at me and excited for a week at camp. While it is centered around love, it’s also driven by purpose and passion. Making an impact on the lives of children, mending race relations, and reaching out to those in poverty are all acts of love, even if they can be difficult and harsh realities to face. It’s love in spite of and among the darkness. Love that’s active and fighting the good fight.  That message has been crucial to me in the past couple of years. There are lots of big decisions and changes happening. I have tried to be guided by the goal that whatever I am doing today or in 10 years, I want to be working hard, with love and passion. The task is full time, there’s no separating it from work or play. We all have different strengths and talents given to us, but God didn’t say that any of these things were excluded from love. In fact, using these gifts alongside love is where things really start to change. Taking shortcuts or trying to separate a career or education from the greater mission of loving others is like the thieves sneaking over the fence into the pasture. To achieve true life, we have to enter by the gate.

Thank you, Caroline, for sharing this with the Sawyerville community!

Camp-in-a-Box: Delivery Day

All 420 boxes and 940 grocery bags have been delivered! The school buses are back in the bus shop. The volunteers have all gone home. The dust has begun to settle on Summer 2020, and it was truly one-of-a-kind. So, it’s time to reflect.

Rewind to April: We started planning Camp-in-a-Box when it became clear that we would not be able to have camp as usual. The Department of Sawyerville created and approved the plan, and we decided to budget $100 per camper, devoting $50 for activities and $50 for food. We put out the call for donations, and the project was funded in just a few weeks!

Next, our summer interns created a plan so that each of our three age groups had their own box with Bible lessons, arts and crafts projects, and activities, all based on their age.

Meanwhile, Evelyn Pritchard, our Meals Coordinator of ten+ years, assembled her team of kitchen staff, and they created a list of groceries they knew parents would appreciate and kids would enjoy.

In the week prior to Delivery Day, the summer interns, kitchen staff, and several helpful volunteers gathered in Birmingham and Greensboro to tackle the daunting task of actually creating the boxes and grocery bags. Each box and bag was packed with love and care!

In general, boxes included art supplies (Crayons, markers, construction paper, scissors, glue stick, etc.), Play-Doh, a bead kit, Lego set, mini basketball goal or wind chime kit, and at least three books. Each camper also received a personalized letter written by a camp counselor and a letter of encouragement from a prayer partner in the diocese.

Campers were given two grocery bags packed with a canned ham, Vienna sausages, pinto beans, instant potatoes, gravy mix, spaghetti noodles, spaghetti sauce, loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, apple sauce, mandarin oranges, cereal, Pop-tarts, Cheez-its, Goldfish, white cheddar popcorn, vanilla wafers, and apple juice Capri Suns.

Delivery Day took place on Sunday, July 12th. We had four pick-up locations throughout Hale County: Greensboro, Sawyerville, Newbern, and Akron. Pick-up began at 2:00pm, and the torrential rains began around 2:15pm! The storm moved through the county and managed to reach every one of our pick-up locations. Despite the inclement weather, volunteers remained in high spirits and worked hard to distribute the boxes and bags.

I asked the summer interns to describe Delivery Day in one or two words. They said…

  • Good chaos
  • Worthwhile chaos
  • Overwhelming in a good way
  • Chaotically wonderful
  • Lovable frustration

Do you notice a theme in their responses? At Sawyerville, we’re used to our programs running like well-oiled machines! We’re proud of our 27 summers and all that we’ve learned over the years. This time, we had to start from scratch and try something completely new. Plenty of our perfectly laid plans did not come together the way we imagined, but in the end, everything worked out just fine. We hope that we never have another camp-in-a-box summer, but if we do, we’ll be ready!

The interns also said…

  • Loving
  • Awesome
  • Holy
  • Sensational
  • Heartwarming
  • Joyful
  • Rewarding

Despite the rain, social distancing, and logistical hiccups, it was still a perfect Sawyerville day. Those present felt connected, seen, and loved. Campers and counselors were reunited, and we hope that parents and family members felt supported and loved, too. The love of God was present and real.

We have truly missed Summer Camp and Summer Learning. Camp-in-a-Box Delivery Day was a reminder of all that we love about this ministry. It’s all for the kids!

Thank you over and over again to those who made Camp-in-a-Box possible:

  • the summer interns
  • the kitchen staff
  • the bus drivers
  • the Birmingham volunteers
  • the Greensboro volunteers
  • Evelyn and Ross Pritchard
  • All Saints’ Episcopal Church
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
  • Newbern First Baptist Church
  • Lions Park
  • Akron Fire Station
  • Sawyerville Head Start Center
  • Amazon wish list providers
  • Camp-in-a-Box sponsors
  • the Department of Sawyerville

2020 Scholarship Recipients

We are proud to announce the 2020 Leslie Manning Scholarship Recipients! Congratulations, scholars!

Since we weren’t able to celebrate the Greensboro High School Class of 2020 at a graduation ceremony, we’d like to take this time to share a special congratulations with John Ford and De’Tyrick King!

Hakeem Bennett

Jacksonville State University

Regiana Fields

The University of West Alabama

Reginiqua Fields

Auburn University at Montgomery

John Ford

Alabama A&M University

Keonna Howard

The University of Alabama

De’Tyrick King

Shelton State Community College

Tatyana Lawson

Alabama A&M University

Jadrian Mitchell

Troy University

Deontae Patterson

Auburn University

Cha’Mari Webb

Lawson State Community College

Ka’Mari Webb

Stillman College

Michael Wiggins

Shelton State Community College