Erica Daniels was 8 years old when the cops pulled over the car her father was driving. "They're like, 'Get out of the car!' It was crazy," Erica says, reflecting back on that moment when her dad was arrested for bank robbery.
She and her mother later joined another family, but incarceration became part of Erica's new family, too. Her sister's father was sentenced to federal prison, where he would eventually serve 17 years.
"It's hard," Erica says, recalling what it was like to have a loved one in prison. "You're having to go and visit [prison]. So that's tough for little kids to do. And that's just introducing them to something that they shouldn't even really have to know about, at a young age."
But during that time, Erica and her sisters were signed up for Angel Tree®.
LIFE WITH A PARENT IN PRISON
"When I was younger, my first encounter with Angel Tree was the groups of people coming to sponsor us for Christmas. And so, I remember them coming and praying with my family and giving us gifts," Erica says. That was a big blessing for Erica's single mom, the family's sole provider, because "she didn't have to do it all on her own."
Angel Tree, a Prison Fellowship® program, has been serving families like Erica's for more than 30 years. Since 1982, more than 11 million gifts have been given to kids, along with the Gospel message and a personal message from their incarcerated parent.
Erica's younger sisters were able to attend summer camps through Angel Tree Camping. "The camps helped my sisters. I think they still have some Facebook friends from people they met at Angel Tree camp, and they're in their 20s now," she says.
Erica was too old to join in the fun at the time, but through her work as a freelance photographer, she found out why her sisters loved it so much.
CAPTURING THE MOMENT
In August, Prison Fellowship asked Erica to photograph the festivities at Camp Agape, a summer camp program that works exclusively with kids whose parents are in prison. The camp was in lush Eugene, Oregon, among enormous evergreen trees and an army of kids ready to have fun.
Through her camera's lens, Erica saw just how much these camps mean to the kids, who might not be able to attend a camp without the help of Angel Tree Camping. Here are some of Erica's favorite moments, captured through her own photos.
'I just love the praise and worship time ... I thought that was awesome,' says Erica.
'That was just beautiful to see the kids are being introduced to that at such a young age.'
Following the times of worship, the kids grabbed their Pathlight Angel Tree Camper Bibles they received
and were led through devotional times by their counselors.
Campers took full advantage of the camp’s splashpad and pool.
HELPING KIDS KNOW THEY'RE NOT IN THIS ALONE
For kids, the biggest gift of camp is meeting other kids who share their same struggles and reality, something Erica can relate to. "I think it helps kids know that you're not in this alone, you know? There's other people who are experiencing similar situations."
As she reflects on her own childhood and her time photographing the campers, Erica says, "I love seeing kids have fun. They're just free here. I feel like they're having a good time. And they're happy."
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