Angel Tree Ministry helps fill void for local children

By JAMES PHILLIPS,

A group of Forest children were treated to a week of fun at summer camp last month through a local church outreach ministry.

Angel Tree Ministry is a program sponsored by the Forest Baptist Church, and works with children who have been separated from their parents because of incarceration.

The ministry was founded approximately 15 years ago by Jeff and Lyn Fountain as part of a Prison Fellowship Ministry for local children 0 to 18 years of age. The Fountains established the ministry supported by the FBC when they moved back to Forest from Birmingham.

The ministry is centered around outreach to local children and teens during the Christmas season, but the program remains an instrumental part of their life throughout the year. The ministry staff and volunteers work to offer support for the children while offering them the introduction to, and the teachings of, the Christian Gospel.

In addition to the Christmas program, the ministry takes 10 to 25 kids, ages 7 to 18, to two separate summer camps.  The angel kids and chaperones traveled to camp at Lake Forest Ranch in Macon, MS where they enjoyed numerous activities and were offered the teachings of the Gospel during their stay.

Carolyn Fountain of Forest, accompanied the children to camp and said the whole experience was uplifting. “Lake Forest is a wonderful Christian camp that does an amazing job presenting the gospel,” she said. “The staff did not present teachings in a forceful way and really communicated the Gospel to the kids. I was really a last minute fill-in for the trip, but I’m really blessed I got to go spend that time with these wonderful children.”

Rachel Harrell of Forest is the Angel Tree Coordinator for Scott County and said that Lake Forest Ranch is an amazing partner of the local ministry. “I would like to give a huge thank you to Lake Forest Ranch,” she said. “This is the summer camp we have been attending the past few years. I cannot thank the administration and staff enough for all they have done for us. The counselors are wonderful with the campers and make sure the true gospel is presented to all who are there but it is never forced on anyone.”

After the summer camp season is over for the angel kids, the staff and volunteers will focus on the fast approaching holiday season when the program really kicks in to high gear. “Camp is actually the second phase of the program,” Harrell said. “The main phase is Angel Tree Christmas. The gifts that are bought for the child are not from the church, nor the program but actually from the incarcerated parent. A group of volunteers actually “adopt” an Angel, purchase gifts, wrap them and deliver them to the church where they can be distributed at the Christmas party. The ultimate goal is showing God’s grace and love for the parent by helping them give a Christmas gift to their child.”

Each year during Christmas, the ministry provides each angel with a “fun gift or toy, a book and one clothing gift which could be coat, pants, shirt, pajamas or maybe even an outfit,” Harrell said.

Since the ministries creation it has grown to reach more and more children throughout the local area. The ministry has up to 100 kids they provide for during Christmas, and up to 30 for camp trips each summer.

Harrell has been involved with the ministry for seven years, and has served as ministry coordinator for the last four years. “Seven years ago my sister, Lyn, asked if I would help chaperon at camp,” she said. “I went and that is all it took, the angels had me hook line and sinker. Jeff and Lyn’s family started to grow and their children became more involved with activities so they had far less extra time so I happily volunteered to take the reins of the Angel Tree Ministry.”

The Forest Baptist Church, and members of the congregation, have funded the ministries costs. Together they provide Christmas party supplies, camperships, t-shirts for camp and camp backpacks full of supplies. The volunteers for this ministry are members of FBC, and the church provides the location for the Christmas party and also provides transportation to and from camp.

While this ministry is part of the FBC ministry, the program is open to all supporters and volunteers. The church is currently working to create partnerships with other local churches to build the program and reach more local children in need.

Harrell said that she has additional facets of the ministry that she is working on and is looking for monetary support and volunteers to grow the Scott County Angel Tree Ministry.

“We certainly can use financial donations, and donations of supplies for the children,” Harrell said. “We are always taking donations of twin bed sheets, lightweight twin blankets, towels and wash clothes for camp. But we really, really need volunteers. The handful of current volunteers is not enough to meet the unfortunate increasing needs of the children in the program.

“Anyone that knows me knows that this ministry is part of who I am,” Harrell said. “I have so much love and admiration for not only the Angels, but also the caregivers and parents. ‘If We Are the Body by Casting Crows’ is my inspiration song. There is a line in the song that says ‘Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come.’ Some of these Angles are in stable environments, some unfortunately are not. We need more hands and feet to help spread the message not just to the children but also to the guardians or parent left at home.”

For information about including a local child in the Angel Tree Ministry, or anyone who would like to donate money, supplies, sponsor an angel or become a volunteer can contact the First Baptist Church at 601-469-2206.

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