By Hayley Robb Brantley, Teacher and Coach at The Ensworth School. She co-coordinated Middler Camp with the Rev. Seth Olson at the 2nd Session this summer.
“I believe there’s a calling for all of us. I know that every human being has value and purpose. The real work of our lives is to become aware. And awakened. To answer the call.” – Oprah Winfrey
Having grown up attending many camp sessions, YD events, and Happenings in the Diocese of Alabama, I’ve heard lots of talks and sermons about a person’s “calling” by God into ministry. Some describe it as having come in a dream, or through deep prayer, or even in the whispers of tree leaves swaying in the wind. I have to admit that while I often found myself a bit jealous of my mentors and peers who had such a distinct and obvious calling, I could never quite relate. I knew I loved being in community with those around me, serving others, and finding ways to give thanks for the good life I have, but never really felt a distinct “calling.”
Then, in February of 2012, I got a phone call.
I’d known Leslie Manning (well, she was still Leslie Bridgers in my mind at that point) when I was in high school and she was in college serving as a youth minister. I always thought she was pretty wonderful but we had not been in touch all that much since that time. I was excited to hear her voice, though, and listened as she told me about her life in the 7 years since we’d last really talked. Then she got down to business, asking me to serve as a coordinator at Sawyerville Day Camp.
Somehow in the midst of my time growing up in the Diocese, I’d missed out on any opportunities to serve at Sawyerville. School, summer jobs, and summer camps all got in the way. I’d always regretted never doing it and had assumed I’d simply missed the chance. Leslie quickly assured me I was wrong and before I’d hung up the phone I’d committed myself to coordinating Upper Camp for a session that summer.
Over the past three years, lots has changed for me– I’ve moved from Alabama to Washington, DC to Nashville, had three different jobs, and gotten married– so in many ways, my summers in Greensboro are one of my constants, and I plan to keep it that way. You see, I’ve found a calling in the play, laughter, heat, and noise of Sawyerville Day Camp.
Why, you ask? I’ll give you three reasons.
- Miracles happen at and because of Sawyerville Day Camp.
The only time I’ve ever experienced a “Capital M- this could only be God’s hand reaching down and touching the earth” Miracle has been at SDC. However, there are countless smaller miracles that happen every day at and surrounding SDC. The miracle of play and laughter in the children’s faces occurs every minute at camp when they run around with their tired but loving counselors. The look on a child’s face when they first stick their head underwater at the pool and then come up for air is another miracle afforded by SDC. The free cost of the camp to all campers and counselors, made possible by the donations of individuals and churches throughout the state, supplying even during the leanest of economic times, is yet another miracle. The new literacy program, which empowers campers to tell their stories and read the stories of others, is a miracle in a part of the state that is infamous for low literacy rates. Our staff, coming from Birmingham, Greensboro, Huntsville, Demopolis, Montgomery, and Marion to live and serve alongside each other every summer is a miracle. Miracles happen at Sawyerville Day Camp.
- The Mission of SDC is Powerful and Important.
Sawyerville Day Camp is not simply a Vacation Bible School or a place for children to come play for a week each summer. One of its stated missions is to improve race relations. In a time when negative stories about race relations and structural racism appear daily in the news, Sawyerville Day Camp is a beacon of hope. Jesus spoke often of what the Kingdom of Heaven looked like or was similar to in the Book of Matthew. Based on those descriptions, I’d imagine that his vision of the Kingdom of Heaven looks a lot like Sawyerville Day Camp. Located in Greensboro, a city where plantation homes still stand and Martin Luther King, Jr. once took shelter from the KKK, SDC is a place where all God’s children, regardless of their race or backgrounds, are loved, respected, and encouraged to run around like crazy and act like kids. It is a place where tough conversations about race happen and the legacies of hundreds of years of racial injustice are not hidden or brushed to the side, but addressed. As my friend Will Wilder said in a recent al.com blog post, “watching suburban white kids from Birmingham work together with rural black kids from Greensboro to help serve their community is proof that Martin Luther King’s dream is still alive.”
- The people at SDC inspire me to be a better version of myself.
There are so many people that I’ve met at Sawyerville that have helped me live out the best version of myself in big and small ways. From Evelyn Prichard, who hates heat, cooking, and early mornings, and yet serves lovingly and tirelessly as the Meals Coordinator at SDC, to Crystal Jones whose thankless job of coordinating the staff requires patience, humor, and love- the people at SDC teach me to reach beyond my comfort zone in all walks of life. I also met someone who I see as one of my most incredible role models during my second year at SDC. Daisha Ross Jones’ commitment to her hometown and the children in it is truly unbelievable. She has become one of my good friends and the conversations we’ve had about our pasts and our dreams for the future fill me with hope and a drive to do more for those around me. Finally, the campers at SDC inspire me. Their smiles, love, and childlike wonder fill my heart and remind me of what it is we are all called to do in life: to love, comfort, and serve one another regardless of who we are or where we come from.
Miracles, Mission, and People— the three pieces that make up my continual calling to Sawyerville Day Camp. As you consider your plans for next summer or which organizations will get your money this year, I encourage you to think about SDC and how it may be a part of the calling you’ve been waiting for in your life.