Shining at Sunrise
The faces of Camp Sunrise campers light up as greeters hand them brightly colored welcome bags filled with personal care products. The welcome bags and the greeters are from Franklin Reformed Church in Nutley, New Jersey.
The campers are specially-abled children and adults ages 8 to 55 who come to Camp Sunrise to learn more about Jesus as they swim, hike, dance, and enjoy campfires, recreational games, a talent show, off-site trips, and bowling. Those who are able go canoeing or tackle a rock climbing wall.
The camp’s connection with Franklin Reformed came about through Franklin’s pastor, Jill Fenske. She volunteers as chaplain for two weeks every summer at Camp Sunrise, which is about an hour’s drive from the church. Camp Sunrise is a ministry of the Warwick Conference Center in Warwick, New York; the center is jointly owned by the Synod of the Mid-Atlantics and the Synod of New York.
“A nurse at the camp clued Pastor Fenske in that many campers needed personal care items,” says Loretta Kwapniewski, a deacon at Franklin Reformed who coordinates the welcome kit project. “She learned that a bunch of the campers come from group homes where personal care items all came in one big size. These campers arrived at camp without essentials like soap and toothpaste.”
So about eight years ago people at Franklin Reformed started supplying these items for people from the group homes by putting together welcome kits. They’ve since expanded the project to supply welcome kits for all the special needs campers, about 125 to 150 each year. Five five-day sessions take place in June and July, with about 25 campers attending each session.
“We start in January asking for donations for the kits,” says Kwapniewski. “Ninety-five percent of what we put in the kits is donated by the people from the church, and some financial help comes from people outside the church.” They collect combs, deodorant, soap, tissues, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other personal care items. A few years ago they began including water bottles. The last week in June a group of 10 to 15 people from the church get together and pack all the bags.
The fabric bags are donated by one of the women from the church, Ginny Jacobsen. For the past three years, two people from the church have gone to the camp each week it’s in session to hand out the welcome kits as campers register. They greet each camper by name, hand out a welcome kit, and write the camper’s name on his or her bag. “People are very pleased,” says Kwapniewski. “They love their name on the bags and having something special for them.”
Next year Franklin Reformed will celebrate 160 years as a congregation. “We are a very small church community, but the people are wonderful in the things they do,” says Kwapniewski. “They are a very willing and open congregation, willing to do anything they can do.”