St. Paul's in Cedar Rapids partners with their community to host Peace Camp teaching young children antiracism
September 05, 2022
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids fostered partnerships to bring a community member’s dream of an antiracism camp for young children into reality.
“I kept circling back to the idea that the church has to be a force for liberation in the world; otherwise, we’re not doing what we should be,” said Rev. Jonathan Heifner, Associate Pastor of Discipleship for St. Paul’s.
Heifner had been doing community organizing and training with Gamaliel. This organization’s mission is to empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social, and economic decisions affecting their lives. While attending, Heifner was in a group with local resident Donna Barnes.
Barnes told Heifner that she had biological white children raised in Cedar Rapids and adopted and fostered children of color raised in Cedar Rapids. There was a significant disparity in their experiences growing up. Being an 87-year-old woman, she felt an urgent need to impact real change on racism and had a dream to have an antiracism camp for young children. She hoped to have five Peace Camps in the Cedar Rapids area.
“That piqued my attention, and I thought, that sounds like liberation work. That’s the kind of stuff we should be doing,” said Heifner.
Recently St. Paul’s had realigned some of its staffing so that Heifner was supervising both their family ministries led by Becca Nims and their early learning center childcare led by Julie Hanlon.
“We were putting on six one-week long summer camps with a different theme each week. I thought, we can pull this off, and we’ve already got the ‘container,’” said Heifner. “I talked to Becca and Julie, and they said, ‘yes’ before they knew what I was asking of them. We set the last week of this summer’s camp as Peace Camp, which was the second week of August.”
The initial conversations were with Barnes, Heifner, Hanlon, and Nims. They also just talked with some other experts in the area. They attended a virtual training with an organization called “We Are” in North Carolina that has been running antiracism camps for elementary-age students for many years. Going through the training gave them access to their curriculum.
“We realized we needed minority voices to lead and guide us, so from there, Donna and others reached out to their connections of some minority leaders in the area. And we got rolling from there,” said Nims.
They also partnered with their local Black Lives Matter movement and other advocates for social justice that helped with some of the finances and provided consultation and guidance. St. Paul’s is part of an ecumenical Summer Meal Program and hosts a free noon meal every day of the summer and was able to provide lunch for the campers.
“I think it’s certainly a matter of fostering those partnerships. We would not have done this if we had done it ourselves. Those partnerships were a crucial piece. It’s where it all started. It’s the only way we made this a possibility,” said Heifner.
The week of Peace Camp ended with speakers, singing, and the group participating in a Peace Walk to a nearby park.