The diocesan Department of Christian Faith in Action (CFA) held their annual luncheon prior to the opening business session of Diocesan Council on Thursday, February 21. Focusing on the summer program, Camp Good Sam, of the Good Samaritan Community Services (GSCS) sites in the Valley and the Texas coastal region, a panel of six leaders delivered addresses about the programs and the benefits they have seen.
Chair of the department, Jill Oettinger, who has served on the board for 17 years, delivered brief descriptions of each program which falls under the CFA umbrella, including the Ecological Stewardship Committee, Recovery Ministries, Habitat Builders for West Texas, Kairos Prison Ministry, and the Mental Health Initiative. Oettinger, who is the CEO of GSCS in San Antonio, introduced the panel members and turned the attention to the Camp Good Sam programs.
The Rev. Chris Roque, rector of St. John’s in Sonora, knew he wanted to see a summer program for the kids in the community. “Sonora is a haven on the edge of the Hill Country with great people, great children,” said Roque. With his community service as a priest, a police officer, Boy Scouts sponsor, and a hospice chaplain, Roque was able to rally the entire community behind his cause – judges, superintendents, government personnel, and even the fitness center director. One juvenile instance did occur and the need for a summer program for youth was evident.
Camp Good Sam was first held in the summer of 2011 in Sonora. “It was the culmination of great energy, “ said Roque. He continued, “I am making a statement in faith here, but we have not had any juvenile crime in Sonora since this program was put in place.”
Wheless Miller, who is a teacher in Sonora, was asked to help coordinate activities for the kids in Sonora. Born and raised in the town, she used her resources as an educator and her many contacts to start coming up with ideas. She has put day sports camps in place, as well as hands-on craft project with local law enforcement.
This summer Miller is going to focus on the Sonora economy, which is heavily influenced by gas and oil. Many of the at-risk kids’ fathers in the community work in the oil fields. Miller wants them to know just what their dads do and how important their work is in Sonora, the state of Texas, the nation, and around the world. “Instead of just knowing that their dads can’t make the evening basketball games, I want them to appreciate their work and gain knowledge about our economy,” said Miller.
Becky Warren, who serves as the Development Coordinator for GSCS in Corpus Christi, shared how the program in her city started with collaboration between various Episcopal churches after the Kids Café program at Cliff Maus Village was closed. The churches share a relationship with Cliff Maus, a low-income housing complex. “We approached the superintendent of the Corpus Christi Independent School District, and he was ecstatic to become involved,” said Warren. Now CCISD provides breakfast, lunches, and snacks; a full-time Emergency Medical Technician; and transportation for field trips. Warren said the keys to the program are the relationships among the churches and the community
Pat Fletcher, who serves on the board of the Rio Grand Valley GSCS, spoke briefly about the program in Pharr. The closed day school of Trinity, Pharr, was transformed when the GSCS program moved in a few years ago. “It has been a shot in the arm for downtown Pharr,” said Fletcher, where kids participate in a junior master gardening program. The kids have six raised flowerbeds for herbs, vegetables, and beautiful plants. “Though vandalism occurs everywhere else in downtown Pharr, vandals do not bother the school/program site,” said Fletcher.
Joseph Morin, Site Coordinator in Pharr, was raised in Trinity Episcopal Church, and has so much joy watching the kids of the GSCS program find role models in the community, and through the Camp Good Sam summer program, see life outside of Pharr. “We don’t completely understand the depth of poverty until we see these kids that come to us. There transformation is simply amazing,” said Morin.
Jeff Rochelle, board chairman of the GSCS in San Antonio, also spoke to the success of the program, and with the entire panel’s support, he encouraged those in the audience to consider developing a GSCS program in their own churches. “It takes a community, but it gives a community a project that everyone can rally around for a great need,” said Rochelle.