When Calvina Jefferson arrived at the Anderson Park field in Atlanta, Georgia, that chilly November morning, she was utterly exhausted. She had been up all night, working her warehouse job at the U.S. Postal Service. On any other day, she would be fast asleep by now. But not today.
That Sunday, Calvina's sons Javis and JaDonis—along with more than 100 other kids with an incarcerated parent—attended an Angel Tree® sports camp. They were there to hone their football skills. But to Calvina, the day meant much more.
FOR CONNECTION'S SAKE
Javis, age 11, and JaDonis, age 10, used to play football with their dad, Jason. But seven years ago, Jason was incarcerated. The boys miss him deeply. Jason calls every weekend, asking about their homework and how they're doing—but it's not the same.
The separation weighs on Calvina. But thanks to Angel Tree Christmas, Jason sends a gift and a personal message to his sons at Christmastime every year.
"When he calls on Christmas, he asks them, 'What did you get? Did you like my gift?' and they'll be so happy, [saying] 'Thank you, Daddy!'" Calvina says. "So it means the world to him to know that he still gave to them on Christmas for the past seven years through Angel Tree."
Calvina is grateful for the way Prison Fellowship Angel Tree™ has kept her family connected. So when she heard about the sports camp, she made sure her boys were there. She also wanted them to know they aren't alone.
"It was very important to me to let the boys be around other kids who live in their same shoes," she said. "I couldn't miss it. I should be sleeping—I have to go to work tonight. But it's worth it."
'It was very important to me to let the boys be around other kids who live in their same shoes. I couldn't miss it. I should be sleeping—I have to go to work tonight. But it's worth it.'
COMING TOGETHER FOR OPPORTUNITY KIDS
Across the country, Prison Fellowship Angel Tree hosts sports camps like this one, where children with an incarcerated parent gain skills in various sports and learn about God's love. Through lessons, drills, and fun competition, kids who might not otherwise have a chance to attend a day camp are treated like champions. It's a unique opportunity for youth of all ages and abilities to learn from seasoned college players and former professional athletes.
In Atlanta, the camp was hosted and coached by the Atlanta Police Athletic League (PAL), who stressed to the kids that law enforcement cares about them and wants to support them.
NFL legends Frank Murphy and Shaun Alexander served as speakers, encouraging attendees to be leaders who resist temptation and find their identity in Christ. Other speakers included PAL Supervisor Sergeant Vincent Sims and Scott Free, local pastor of Crossover Church. Every caregiver and child in attendance heard the Gospel and had the chance to respond by committing their lives to Jesus. The day also featured performances by several Christian hip-hop artists. Lunch was served, and every child went home with a free pair of sneakers, sponsored by Prison Fellowship® partner Shoes That Fit.
It's a unique opportunity for youth of all ages and abilities to learn from seasoned college players and former professional athletes.
CAREGIVERS NEED CARE TOO
Prison Fellowship has hosted sports camps for more than a decade, but recently the Angel Tree sports camp team has implemented several elements to make the experience even better. Now, as kids run drills and scrimmage, caregivers have the option of heading inside for a special caregiver breakout session. There, a panel of seasoned caregivers shares about their experience caring for kids with an incarcerated parent—including how God has helped get them through. Caregivers enjoy snacks and drinks as they listen. And at the conclusion of the meeting, each caregiver is prayed for by volunteers from Prison Fellowship and local churches.
"It gave me time to be by myself, to appreciate the program, my kids, and just learn a lot more about God," Calvina said at the Atlanta camp. "I had two people pray for me, and they were so genuine. Sometimes you just want somebody to listen to you and to understand where you're coming from. It was a completely no judge zone today, and I think I needed that. I cried a couple of times, because spiritually, I needed it."
In addition, caregivers now go home with a Bible, as well as a postcard with a QR code for a website with information about local resources, such as food and housing help, after-school programs, and addiction recovery. Area churches link caregivers to these services in hopes that—if they so desire—caregivers can also be connected to a caring local congregation.
'Sometimes you just want somebody to listen to you and to understand where you're coming from. It was a completely no judge zone today, and I think I needed that.'
Javis and JaDonis had a great time at the Angel Tree sports camp. They especially enjoyed a drill that included hopping, spinning, and running. They were excited about their brand-new shoes. But most of all, they were impressed by the coaches—whose affection they sensed was genuine.
"One of my teammates fell to the ground when he was in last place, because he was disappointed," Javis said. "Everyone—the other kids and the coaches—everyone lifted him up, saying he did good. It helped me think that the adults actually do care about the people here. They love them, and they want them to succeed in life."
Calvina left with a heart full of hope, saying, "I'll lose sleep any day for a day like this."
'The adults actually do care about the people here. They love them, and they want them to succeed in life.'