Today’s kids don’t have it easy. They’ve endured two-plus years of pandemic life: isolation, inconsistency and a lot of unknowns; they’re growing up with a world of information and opinions at their fingertips; and a high percentage are experiencing social pressure (or worse, bullying) from social media “friends” and influencers. Unfortunately, for Spokane’s at-risk youth, it can be even worse. Many are burdened with family upheaval, poverty, neglect and drug and alcohol abuse.
UGM Youth Outreach Director Ryan Brown says inviting a child to UGM Camp can help.
UGM Camp (located near Ford, WA) is a place where underserved kids, ages 8-11, from Spokane’s low-income neighborhoods are invited to spend a week exploring nature and experiencing God’s love. They’re typically invited by their local church and sponsored by individual members of the community who want to help. The goal is to reach into the lives of these young people and reveal new ways of living, offering hope for a better tomorrow.
“For most kids we work with,” says Ryan, “what I’ve experienced is just letting them open up. If they can process what’s going on in their life on a somewhat consistent basis, they can get through a lot.”
"If they can process what's going on in their life on a somewhat consistent basis, they can get through a lot."
When it comes to trauma responses, toxic habits and triggers, Ryan says working with kids is just easier than adults. “The [neuro]pathways that you find in adults in their 30s and 40s are basically freeways, so to deconstruct that takes a jackhammer. Where kids, just because their brains aren’t fully formed and their emotions aren’t fully formed, those pathways are more like heavily treaded footpaths. As long as they can process through those, you can help them change course.”
Changing course is what UGM Camp is all about. Since its foundation, the goal has been to reach at-risk kids before they start making irreversible bad decisions. Since homelessness often stems from addictive patterns and trauma responses, intervening in the lives of at-risk children can make all the difference for their futures. At its core, UGM Camp is a prevention program.
But how does change take place? “Most of that comes from them opening up, having a safe space, a consistent type of person. I say ‘type of person’ because it’s not just the consistency of one camp counselor or one leader; when they see the Spirit of God in that person and that person and that person, they experience a consistency that draws them toward Christ, because God’s Spirit is the one thing all of us at Camp have in common.
“It’s intentional fun,” he says. Ryan and his team of Camp staff (including a behavioral specialist and an army of well-vetted interns) welcome the kids into a safe, fun atmosphere where learning to play and taking risks are encouraged. Through the challenge course, the river float and in new relationships, kids have the opportunity to try new things—including sharing the hardest parts of their lives.
“That’s a lot of the work we do,” says Ryan. “And even if they don’t know Jesus, the Holy Spirit works in them and digs gold out that we’re there to help them examine.” In addition to examining what’s hurting and giving kids the chance to see their struggles in light of God’s love, Ryan says the team does a good job of highlighting the positive desires and character traits the kids reveal. “It becomes, ‘That’s beautiful, that’s cool, that’s a great thing,’ and we help them grab onto that.”
“And even if they don’t know Jesus, the Holy Spirit works in them and digs gold out that we’re there to help them examine.”
Beyond creating a safe place for kids to share their lives, Ryan’s goal is to offer something more intriguing than social media, cell phones and potential substance addiction.
“It’s not about taking something away [technology]—that’s a natural result of going to camp because there’s no cell service—but it’s about adding new options to their lives, a new view. [At UGM Camp] The leaders they’re looking to aren’t people on the screen. So many kids are following whatever the newest trend is or the new TikTok video, and they’re deeply enamored and entrenched in it, so drawing their attention to another place is a big part of it. It’s huge. The leaders here are real people, and many are the leaders from their local church who they’re going to see throughout the year.”
He says it’s the love of God, real relationships and good old fashioned outside time that draw children’s attention away from social media etc. “We’re offering something brighter and more interesting than their phones. Often that’s as simple as time in the river or playing in the mud. And it’s ‘Jesus is brighter than your sin.' We don't have camp to try to change behavior; we try to change hearts.”
“We don’t have camp to try to change behavior; we try to change hearts.”
UGM Camp is all about relationships—with God, friends and safe adults. Opening up and processing their lives out loud makes it possible for kids to move through their struggles and make decisions that will positively impact their lives and the lives of those around them far into the future.
Help us make sure all kids invited to UGM Camp this year are fully sponsored.