Camp Kindle offers children affected by HIV and AIDS a place of both play and empowerment.
Courtesy of Camp Kindle
By Julia Kayser
July 20, 2012―Eva Payne was 21 years old when she founded Project Kindle. She’d gone to camp every summer as a kid, and wanted to start her own camp that would benefit people in need. “The idea of a camp for kids impacted by HIV and AIDS just popped into my head,” she says. Most full-time students would have filed an idea like that away for the future, but Payne dove in headfirst. “From August of 1998 to July of 1999… I didn’t do anything else. I was just consumed,” she says.
Project Kindle’s first week of camp served 50 kids who were either infected or affected by HIV and AIDS, and it was a huge success. Camp Kindle provided the kids with a safe place to ask all the questions that they had been afraid to ask before. “We start talking about HIV and AIDS the very first night so it doesn't become the elephant in the room,” says Payne. In addition to participating in normal camp activities like archery and swimming, kids at Camp Kindle attend health workshops and learn to differentiate between myths and realities of HIV and AIDS.
One of Payne’s biggest goals is to erase the stigma associated with this disease. “Our campers were coming to us and saying that they wanted to get out into the public and share their stories.” A program called Sharing Personal Experiences And Knowledge: Our Unique Truths (SPEAK OUT) was born. SPEAK OUT allows kids to go into local schools and conferences to tell their stories and present facts about HIV and AIDS. “Through SPEAK OUT, I’m able to educate people so they know the truth about HIV and AIDS,” says one speaker.
Payne says that Project Kindle’s vision is “for our kids to go back to their communities and make a difference.” The campers have done that, and more! In 2010, one teenage camper shared his experience at the HIV and AIDS conference in Dallas, Texas. The event was sponsored by the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. “He told his heartwarming story of how the project has helped him cope, touching the lives of many,” says UMCOR’s Patricia Magyar.
UMCOR’s partnership with Project Kindle extends beyond speaking invitations. For the past decade, Project Kindle has been the recipient of grant money from UMCOR. Each year, it costs about $1,000 to send each camper to Camp Kindle, and this experience is provided free of charge. Therefore, Payne spends a lot of time fundraising. Grant money from UMCOR has been “a huge blessing for us,” she says. And, because of UMCOR’s stellar reputation, “it’s helped us to leverage other funding,” she adds.
This long and rich partnership will continue. Camp Kindle is in session this week in California. Please keep the campers who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS in your prayers. “A portion of our dollars provides opportunities for youth of all races and backgrounds to attend camp in the summer,” says Magyar, “and be empowered, loved, and mentored, and given hope for a better day.”
Support HIV and AIDS ministries through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to umcor.org