Singing for Hope
By Lindsay Peyton
Each year, singer songwriter Bill Nash joins the congregation at Pasadena’s Hope Community United Methodist Church in prayer. Then, at the end of services, he picks up his guitar and takes the stage.
He also tells his story and asks for help.
“When he makes his appeal, it’s pretty impressive,” Senior Pastor Jack Womack said. “It’s hard to say no.”
Nash tells the congregation about the non-profit summer camp he runs with his wife Kim.
Even though it happened decades ago, the memory of their 2-year old toddler being diagnosed with Leukemia is still freshly seared in their minds.
“They gave us the bad news, and that’s how we learned about trauma,” Bill said.
He remembers saying a prayer, asking Jesus to heal the couple’s son Billy and promising to spread His word when singing the Gospel.
When Billy later returned to the hospital for his blood work, all the cancerous cells were gone.
“It was a miracle,” Bill said. “We wanted to pay God back for sparing our kid.”
He and Kim were inspired to do something to help other children heal from emotional scarring, whether it resulted from an illness, injury or loss of a parent or sibling.
They decided to create a place where kids could get away and become champions in life, instead of victims.
Champions Kids Camp started in 2001. Since then, about 200 children attend each summer in Alvin with the help of about 50 volunteers. Former campers often return as counselors.
“It’s a God thing,” Bill said. “We’ve all been through something grievous. We’re trying to give kids hope. We help them get past what they’ll never get over.”
He explained that children who have experienced trauma need social skills, self-confidence and the peace from fear and anxiety.
“We let them know God loves them, Jesus loves them, and we love them,” Bill said. “We’re there for them. God has blessed us, so we can extend our own love.”
It takes only $500 to sponsor a child’s participation in the program.
Each year, Bill and Kim visit churches and appeal to members to help send the kids to Alvin. They also ask for volunteers.
Pastor Womack said his church raises $6,500 to $7,000 annually to cover scholarships for campers. He also encourages congregants to help out in whatever they can – from partially sponsoring a camper to volunteering for even a few hours during the summer.
“If you think about it, our little church is sponsoring 10 percent of the kids going to this camp,” he said.
Womack visited the facility last year. “It was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced,” he said. “Some of the kids were with CPS; others had cancer. For some, their parents had cancer. Now they’re counselors at this camp.”
He saw the self–esteem they gained. “The camp is a very spiritual experience, and they learn life skills,” he said. “For kids who’ve been through trauma, there’s nothing more important than that.”
Hope Community United Methodist Church has sponsored campers since the church was established a few years ago. Womack said his congregations looks forward to Nash’s fundraising concert each summer.
“Every year, we have a waiting list,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting the word out and telling people what it is.”
The Nashes are eager to talk to any congregations who are interested in having them speak about the camp. “This mission is in their own backyard,” he said. “You don’t have to go far to find a child who needs help.”
Pastor Womack said helping the camp fulfill its mission aligns perfectly with the church’s own outreach efforts. Hope Community UMC also tutors a dozen elementary school students each week and provides items to children in need.
After hearing from CPS that children were in need of shoes, Womack decided to try something new.
At the end of a sermon one recent Sunday, he said, “There are a lot of people who need what I have, so I’m leaving my shoes at the altar.”
His congregation followed suit – and since then, together they’ve been collecting shoes, bags and belts for those in need.