Three years ago, the small private school I teach at began forming an archery program for the students. Because I had some previous archery experience, I became the coach. This year, we officially joined the National Archery in the Schools Program and had nearly all of our middle and high school students involved in the program. Our middle school team placed 10th at our State Tournament in March!
Because our program has been growing, our school’s Kindergarten teacher volunteered to help me coach, for which I am very grateful!
Toward the end of the school year, one of the ladies I work with asked me if the assistant coach and I would be willing to teach archery to a group of students at a summer camp. We both checked our schedules, and agreed to help out.
A few days before we were expected at camp, we packed up our bows, arrows, quivers, and toolbox, and discussed a little bit of what we wanted to teach the kids during our time with them.
The camp we were asked to help out at is run by a nonprofit organization called Hope’s Haven. This organization provides camping experiences for children who have been or are in foster care or group homes. These kids also get the opportunity to learn about the Bible and Jesus’ love for all of us…an opportunity they may not get anywhere else.
As my helper and I traveled to the place where this particular camp was being held, we got a little lost along the way. Apparently, I had driven past this place many times on my trips to and from college, but I had no idea! At one point, I decided not to trust the GPS on my phone and took an exit I was not supposed to. I know all roads lead somewhere, but none of the roads I was on led to where I wanted to be! Finally, after turning around in parking lots and at red lights more than once, we made it to the location.
Well, then a whole new expedition began. Directions and I do not always see eye to eye. When I started driving, my parents used to joke that I would be able to get so lost that even a GPS would be confused! I’ve gotten way better, but some days are not quite as good as others. When we got to the camp location, there were all kinds of dirt roads leading all different directions. We met up with the lady we work with, and she told us which way to go. Well…the main part of the directions I heard was “go past the pool.” So, we followed a dirt road past the pool. Soon, we found ourselves on a narrow path winding around old, overgrown, falling down cabins. It was quite creepy, actually! Thankfully, my car was small enough to get myself backed around and drive back up toward the pool. Apparently, there was another road past the pool that we didn’t really notice before. That happened to be the road we wanted in the first place! So, back the road, through a small parking lot, and down another dirt path, and finally (whew!) we were where we were supposed to be!
We were greeted by the husband and wife team who were running the camp. They had already set up targets for us, and helped us to get the range and bows set up. We chatted a bit before the campers arrived, and during that time, my anticipations of not knowing what to expect began building. I had no idea what these teens had been through in their lives. I also had no idea how they would react to my personality and the instruction I was about to give them.
As they were arriving, they were chatting, and one boy asked me about the sunburn I had gotten earlier in the day. I put a big smile on my face, swallowed my nerves, and began talking about the bows we would be using.
These kids were amazing! They listened so intently to every word I said. They did not interrupt while I was giving instructions. And let me tell you, they were fun to spend some time with!! Some kids had shot a bow previously, others had never held one. But they were great sports! A few seemed a little timid to start out, but after they got a bow in their hands and understood a little bit about what they were supposed to be doing, they couldn’t get enough! Almost all of the counselors, mentors, and helpers took turns shooting as well, which the campers loved!
I think my favorite part of this experience was seeing how happy the kids were to be shooting a bow and arrows. They formed little competitions on their own between their peers. If someone shot and knocked a target over or turned it sideways, they simply shot at the target beside it. If they missed completely, they did not get down on themselves. They did not care about scoring their arrows. They were just content to be there, doing something fun!
Archery is an amazing sport. It is something nearly anyone can do. And while some people really are born with a talent for it, hard work and dedication can provide shooters with just as much success. What I have found is that most kids enjoy shooting. Even if they barely know the basics, it is fun to just “wing arrows” at a target! One thing I count on at school, before archery sign-ups, is making sure each student has had the chance to shoot a bow. Because, for the most part, once a child shoots a bow, they want to keep doing it!
I do not know if I made a difference in these teens’ lives. I was only with them for a short time. There was at least one camper who thought about talking to her gym teachers at school to try to implement NASP in the district. But what I do know is that those kids tugged on my heart. So many of them could have let their situations define them. There are so many ways they could have acted. But they didn’t. They were wonderful archers, and so enjoyable to spend a little time getting to know.
Which brings me to my next point. The volunteers at Hope’s Haven are doing a wonderful thing! They are reaching out to children that come from less-than-favorable situations, providing them with opportunities they may not get where they come from, and teaching them about Jesus and His love! They are opening doors that may have stayed tightly closed for these kids. And I did not really realize it until I saw if firsthand.
So please, visit the Hope’s Haven website. No one from the organization asked me to write this. This is completely from my own heart. I encourage you to just go and check out the amazing work they are doing with America’s youth! I have included the link to their website several times throughout this post, and it can also be found here, as well as a link to their Facebook page.