ONEKAMA, MI (June 11, 2015) — One of the fifth-grade students had seen his mother killed when he was four years old. Another had been bounced from the home of one relative to another and among various foster families, one of which had taken her in solely for the money they would receive from the state. Another boy’s mother is dying and must decide whether to allow the drug-addicted father back into her son’s life.
They were all students at a charter school in a low-income neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, who recently traveled to Portage Lake Bible Camp. For a week, they were able to experience joyous activities and attention rarely afforded them.
Their teacher, Dave D’Antonio, is a North Park University graduate who thought the experience would be perfect for the class’s annual year-end trip. Often students will travel to places like Washington D.C., but D’Antonio said he thought such a trip is better suited to older students who could better understand the significance of being in the nation’s capitol.
As for his fifth grade class, D’Antonio said, “They just really needed to be loved and have a great time. Some times these kids get labeled as ADHD or something else, but they’re really suffering from PTSD.”
Most of the students hadn’t traveled much beyond their neighborhood if at all, and the experience at Portage Lake roughly 500 miles away thrilled them as well as gave them a new sense of hope for their futures, D’Antonio said. “They ate it up.”
They canoed, climbed sand dunes, sang around campfires, and explored the forest. Afterward the students wrote about what the trip had meant to them and what they had learned.
They wrote, “I beat my fears,” “I can believe more about myself,” “I accomplished weird and difficult things with the help of others,” “I learned that my teachers really care about us and so do the camp leaders,” and, “People believe in me.”
D’Antonio, who does not have an ECC background, said he learned of the camp from friends at North Park. They had worked or attended there and told him what a wonderful place it is.
“I’m really grateful for what Portage Lake did for the kids,” D’Antonio said. “All of the staff was so wonderful to them and so accommodating.”