It began with a beach trip. Loading up the ministry bus, which the Cambodian pastor drove, we spent several days at a place at Myrtle Beach we’d found to host our group at a reasonable cost. After this trip, in which one of the guys broke his leg playing basketball at a nearby gym, we looked carefully at how we planned and structured all future outings. We then created a volunteer program for the kids, requiring each kid to spend 20 hours working on our site or volunteering at nearby programs such as food banks, clothing closets and other agencies serving the city’s needy populations. Not only were the kids doing something for others, they seemed to enjoy much of the work. They also learned about these agencies and the people who staffed them. We then raised the money for the trips through grants and contributions via a data base of donors we’d been compiling since the early days of the program.
The next summers, we traveled to the North Carolina mountains, Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Florida, important experiences for bonding our different ethnicities, not only Cambodian by then but Laotian, Vietnamese and Anglo.
We also added another trip for our group, to a week-long summer camp in Tennessee called Mountaintop, an interdenominational Christian camp serving children living in mountain poverty. As usual, we required something of our kids in order to go, which was also required by the camp: that they attend training sessions about the program and what we would be doing. We raised the money from donors to cover the costs.
On this trip, our group, high schoolers now, became camp counselors to the children. That, I believe, became one of the most meaningful experiences for this ministry. The children the first two years were rural white kids, which set up an interesting dynamic. Most had never seen an Asian (the other teen-aged counselors tended to be from large white protestant churches). One child asked one of our guys if he was black (although he didn’t use the word “black”). Whatever the trepidations the children may have had, they quickly bonded with our teenagers, a bonding that was very mutual.
When we returned to Charlotte that first year, the adult leaders were asked by the kids to meet with them the following Sunday. The meeting became a sharing session, with tears and laughter and stories of what that experience had meant to all of us.
We did this trip for three summers. And in years afterwards when we had group reunions, Mountaintop seemed to be the experience they loved to recall.