Camp H.O.M.E. celebrates 16 years of building future Jacksonville leaders

A Jacksonville camp created to inspire kids and build leadership skills is wrapping up another year today.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville camp created to inspire kids is wrapping up another year on Friday.

Camp H.O.M.E. (Holding On More Effectively to our children) builds leadership skills.

All 58 kids were able to attend this year’s camp at Household of Faith Church free of charge thanks to grants and fundraising.

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson, a retired police officer, paid a visit to the children.

He shared his life’s journey and said he hopes the campers are inspired to chase their dreams.

Camp H.O.M.E. is a place where kids can strive to be whatever they want and polish their leadership skills.

“I want them to know that they can dream big,” said founder Dr. Bernadette Williams. “There’s nothing too hard. They don’t have to give up.”

That is the vision WIlliams had when she established the camp for Jacksonville children 5 to 12 years old.

Now, wrapping up year 16, the mission remains the same.

“Your gift can get you there, but will your character keep you there?” she said.

To help foster that mentality, Jefferson spoke to the campers. He was the final guest speaker for the six-week program.

“You can stand up and be somebody,” he said during his 30-minute speech.

He motivated the children to be leaders and not followers.

“That’s what these kids are hungry for,” Jefferson said. “They see what they want to be so, I hope they see something positive in me that they can leave from and move forward with, go out and do great things.”

Jefferson shared his own struggles in life, including overcoming poverty and bullies. He said that led to triumph as he worked with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for nearly 25 years.

“I grew up in poverty. I grew up in the projects,” Jefferson said. “There are all types of temptations that were there to lead me astray and lead me the wrong way.”

Jefferson and Williams joined forces in the final week of the camp to give the campers hope, courage and love.

“Kids need to know that you care. They need to know that you love them,” Williams said. “That’s what we do at this camp.”

“Regardless of their circumstances, circumstances do not define you, whatever situation you may be in right now, whatever it is, you can always overcome that,” Jefferson said.

The campers took trips, played sports and took art classes during the program.

Williams also launched “The Leader in Me” program this summer for those 13 years old through college-aged young adults.

Instructors of that pilot program taught students about taxes, how to write checks and how to create resumes.

Williams told me the plan moving forward is to have two community-wide events before summer 2022. She wants those to be opportunities to catch up with the kids to see how they’re doing and if they’re using what they learned during the last six weeks.

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