At the end of the summer, Joe, long-time Angel Tree coordinator from Colorado, received a letter. It was from 17-year-old DuPree.
“I would like to thank you again for another amazing year at camp. I actually would like to thank you for the 8 years you have sponsored me and given me the opportunity to enjoy fun activities, meet awesome, encouraging people, and become closer to Christ …”
DuPree’s father went to prison when he was a toddler. And although he was incarcerated far from DuPree and his family, there were always moments to connect, particularly every Christmas, when DuPree would receive a gift—a toy or a piece of clothing—from an Angel Tree church, on behalf of his dad.
“I was actually able to get presents from my dad even though I wasn’t able to see him. It was pretty important to me.”
When DuPree was nine, the church gave him his first opportunity to attend Camp IdRaHaJe (“I’d Rather Have Jesus”), about an hour southwest of Denver.
“My first night there, I heard a coyote howling,” DuPree remembers.
Although the setting was unique and a little strange to DuPree, he soon settled in, making connections with other kids who had parents in prison.
Since he didn’t have a church background, it was also the first time he heard that Jesus had died for him and wanted to be the Lord of his life. DuPree responded with childlike faith.
“Thanks to you, I accepted Christ 8 years ago at that camp,” DuPree wrote in his letter to Joe.
It was also the first time he was around a lot of other kids who also had parents in prison.
“I was able to relate to people,” he said. “I was able to make really good friends, talk to them when things got hard.”
They were friends he would stay in touch with when camp finished and everyone returned home. And then they would reconnect at camp again the following year. And the year after that.
Particularly, the counselors and mentors he met left an impression. Over the years, as DuPree moved through junior high and high school, those relationships helped keep him focused on the important things.
“Meeting new people and hearing their stories have had a big impact on myself,” he said. “Having encouragement from counseling there to stay committed to Christ also has now made me want to become a counselor and motivate others to stay in the right path to righteousness.”
“He’s becoming a better person,” said his mom Frances.
DuPree is a senior now and plans to apprentice as an electrician after graduation. And next summer, he hopes he can return to Camp IdRaHaJe—this time as a counselor.