Amazing Grace caters to children who have parent in jail

June 15 2014

BARNSTABLE — The parish office of St. Mary's Episcopal Church is abuzz with staff members preparing for the debut of a unique camp program that will be the first of its kind in Massachusetts. The Amazing Grace camp, planned for later this summer at Camp Burgess in Sandwich, will offer Cape children who have a parent who is incarcerated a free week of fun and sun. 

"What the camp does is just open up a little bit of light in their lives, show them that they are loved as themselves and there are other ways to go," coordinator Eleanor Braun said.

The camp is aimed at children from the Cape and Islands, ages 7-11, as well as surrounding communities suchas Plymouth. Amazing Grace intends to host 1620 campers, but with approximately 10 campers already signed up and an increasing amount of interest, the response to program has been overwhelming. "We'll probably end up with a waiting list," Braun said.

There are 2 million minors in the United States who have an incarcerated parent, according to a recent study issued by the National Academy of Sciences. These children face higher risks of behavioral problems, homelessness and imprisonment, according to Braun. But with such a staggering number, there aren't many emotional outlets these children can turn to.

"If your father goes to prison, you don't want to talk about that — you're embarrassed," Braun said.

Amazing Grace serves as a safe haven where campers can enjoy all of the aspects of a traditional summer camp while they are surrounded by a group of caring counselors and other campers who have similar circumstances.

Although it is a first for Massachusetts, Amazing Grace is not the first camp for children who have a parent serving time. The Episcopal Church started its first camp in New Mexico in 1995. Since then, dioceses all over the United States have founded programs, some of the closest being in Vermont and Maryland. Although run by  St. Mary's, Amazing Grace is ecumenical and open to campers of all religions.

The staff of Amazing Grace consists of approximately 30 volunteers from all over the Cape and Islands. Access to therapists, social workers and a nurse will be available, however counseling sessions for the campers will not be a focus of the camp.

"As volunteers, we're not going to try to be therapists to the kids," Braun said. We view the whole experience for them as therapeutic."

In the environment Amazing Grace fosters, discussion of feelings and family relationships will "happen organically," Braun said.

As an organization founded on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, the South Shore YMCA that oversees Camp Burgess offered its facilities to Amazing Grace with open arms.

The program "aligns well with our mission and it was quite easy for us to decide to pull money from our charitable fund to subsidize their stay at camp," said, Joe O'Keefe, associate executive director of Camp Burgess & Hayward.

Because of the YMCA and fundraising at St. Mary's Episcopal, Amazing Grace is completely free to campers.

"It's a great opportunity to help people who are really in need of somebody who care about them," Braun said.


Would you like to voluteer?

Amazing Grace is a camp program for children living on the Cape whose parents are incarcerated.  This first year of the program will be a one-week residential summer camp experience at the YMCA’s Camp Burgess in Sandwich. Camp will be completely free for the campers.

Children of incarcerated parents have a higher probability of being caught up in the criminal justice system that their peers.  Camp gives the children a chance to experience a different style of life, and to learn that people love them unconditionally, regardless of their circumstances.

Children, ages 7-11, will enjoy a full range of camp activities, including sports, arts & crafts, swimming and boating, hikes in the woods, ropes courses, and singing around the campfire. The children will have fun just like other kids.  YMCA counselors and volunteers from various churches and other organizations on the Cape will supervise the children.  The Amazing Grace program will continue to build relationships with campers, and will carry on in future years.

For more information about the camp, check our website:

You can help make sure the campers fully enjoy their week away by volunteering to help chaperone and serve as counselors for the campers at Camp Burgess. We especially need young adults who would be willing to spend one or more nights as an overnight chaperone. You would be sleeping in an expedition style tent, but available to help if a camper needs assistance during the night. There are other volunteer opportunities available.

A volunteer application form will help us find the right volunteer assignment for you. 

In order to assure the safety of the children, we will also do background checks on volunteers, and ask that they complete on-line abuse-prevention training.  We also have two meetings for volunteers, one on July 22 at 5:30-8:30 and another on August 5 from 5:30-8:30.  Food will be provided at both events.

Thank you for considering volunteering to help brighten the lives of children who are often the invisible victims of crime.  It can make such a difference to them as they experience unconditional acceptance and love, enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, embrace their own creativity, develop new life skills, and initiate supportive relationships.  You can be part of this life-transforming opportunity!