No matter what you imagine, everybody didn’t spend spring break frolicking unsupervised at the beach.
Pastor M. Lamont Cooper Sr. took 153 teens and ’tweens to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains for Mount Destiny, a weeklong spring break camp created for youth to reconnect to themselves and their peers by focusing on goals toward success in education, career and life.
And they’re completely unplugged. No cellphones. No iPads or iPods or iTunes. No texts or tweets.
It was the fourth Mount Destiny Spring Break Camp at Windy Gap, a campsite owned by Young Life in the mountains of Weaverville, just north of Asheville in western North Carolina.
In addition to leading Millennium Revival Center in Raleigh, Cooper also is president and CEO of Visions Institute for Youth, a nonprofit championing the educational, social and economic well-being of Wake County youth.
“A lot of times, the community reacts to the trouble of our young people,” Cooper said. “We thrive off of being proactive.
“What’s important to us is that we reach young people before they make regretful decisions,” Cooper said. “We know the camp is worthwhile and the benefits are outstanding.”
The audience of sixth through 12th graders came not only from Cooper’s church, but also from churches, neighborhoods, schools and community groups across Raleigh, Durham and other North Carolina cities. Cooper said no one is turned away who can’t afford the $275 fee.
“Our goal was for them to meet new people outside of their close-friend network and bond with other people their age in a Christian environment,” said Bonita Brewington, whose daughters, Jordyn, 13, and Jada, 12, attended the camp. Both girls attend Grace Christian College Prep Academy in Knightdale.
“We’ve gotten positive feedback,” Brewington said, noting both girls already are in touch with new friends from Mount Destiny. “I hope they’ll want to go again.”
“It was very different from the way you spend spring break, but it was something new and a good experience,” Jada said. “It was good to meet people and get out there and socialize.”
Jordyn said any awkwardness in how she’d meet people was short-lived once they were introduced to roommates.
“It was very educational to learn about setting goals and making good choices for your destiny,” she said. “It was a good way to experience things in the mountains, too: horseback riding and the swings.”
Leaving electronics behind wasn’t so bad, either.
“I like having Wi-Fi, but it really was good to socialize with other people,” Jordyn said.
Chance to disconnect, and reconnect
Myths were dispelled, said Shawnee Horn, the assistant camp director.
“It’s a pleasure to see the inner child begin to be awakened without the layers of social media environmental influences,” said Horn, who also attends Millennium. “The camp is an opportunity to disconnect kids from current environment and social media influence, and reconnect them with their purpose – find out why are they here, where can they make an impact and who were meant to influence.
“And it’s a great way to connect and reconnect with God,” Horn added. “It really is a spring break experience they will remember the rest of their lives.”
Daniel Ocean took his whole family to Mount Destiny, including his teenage son, Daniel Jr., and his niece, Naja Garrett, 16, both students at Heritage High School in Wake Forest.
“We’re good at telling them what to do and what not to do, but we don’t tell them how to go about getting it done, or how to avoid things like bullying, drugs, drinking, teen pregnancy,” said Ocean, who led the praise and worship portion of the camp, including nightly concerts.
His wife, Rita, joined other volunteers, and the couple’s younger children, Skyla, 5, and Brooklyn, 2, attended Jr. Camp.
“Being transparent and opening up with them, and them seeing us as imperfect people who were able to move forward, was a good thing,” Ocean said. “Once they realized we weren’t going to preach to them, it was just awesome and amazing to see them go forth and have a good time.”