BROOKSVILLE — The Rev. Clarence D. Clark Sr. would like for at least 150 kids to be able to attend his Shiloh Problem Solvers summer camp.
But he needs help.
"We're a faith-based organization," said Clark, who is well known for his work with those in need in the community. "Our outreach program is not funded by any governmental agencies."
Most who attend Clark's church, Shiloh New Beginnings Pillar of Truth, live below the poverty level, he said.
"So we don't get much funding from our church. We rely totally on the generosity of business donations and other churches' donations and partnership."
Clark's goal is to offer the camp, now in its sixth year, for free.
"Hopefully we never need to charge a child or parent," Clark said. "We never did in previous years, and we really don't want to start now."
With tough economic times, however, donations are down this year, Clark said.
"We need support and funds," he said. "What we offer this year will be dependent on what type of fundraising we do."
The camp will be offered on weekdays for 10 weeks, June 13 through Aug. 13 at Kennedy Park. There will be a trip each week to Lakewood Retreat to use the pool there and teach the children how to swim.
"A lot of African-American kids don't have pools to be able to learn how to swim, so during the summer we give them that opportunity," Clark said.
There will also be two weeks — one for older children and one for younger children — when camp participants will spend a full week at Lakewood Retreat, including overnight.
"That in itself is a total blessing," Clark said. "They provide food and everything."
Clark emphasized that all children in grades 5 through 12 are welcome in the camp and noted that last year the roster included 10 special-needs children who attended along with trained assistants.
"While most of the children were local last year, we had some from both the west and east side of town," Clark said.
The camp costs about $200 per week per child.
"The ballpark figure of the amount of funds to run a camp for 150 kids is $64,000," Clark said, referring to the cost of last year's camp. "The bulk of that went to the overnight. It was about $15,000 per week for each session. Then we have food costs, renting equipment, and the renting of Kennedy Park is pretty steep, too."
Clark said he needs hundreds of dollars per day to rent the park and make sure it is secure.
"The biggest thing we faced last year is that people came in the park perimeters who were not background screened, and it caused a little flare-up," Clark said. "So in order to be able to secure the entire park, all the fields and the whole perimeter and make sure everyone is screened, it costs $350 a day, Monday through Friday."
One source of income for the camp will be some of the proceeds from a Project Save Our Sons golf tournament May 14 at Brooksville Country Club at Majestic Oaks. The four-person scramble will include teams consisting of three adults and one youth. The cost is $75 for adults; youths play for free. The deadline for registration is May 9.
The daily camp program will run from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A typical day includes calisthenics, team sports, inside activities, computer time and free time. The children are given three meals a day and snacks.
"We feed them breakfast, lunch and then dinner just before the parents pick them up," Clark said. "We also send a bag of food from our food pantry home with them for the weekend."
Inside activities are conducted by several partner organizations that teach the youths life skills.
"They come in and help teach things like drug awareness, about domestic violence and sexual abuse, arts and entertainment, about reading books," Clark said. "Hernando Youth Initiative has a plethora of programs on child wellbeing, teen pregnancy, and they offer all their services. Suncoast Schools Credit Union provides kids with entrepreneur skills, budgeting and financial training."
The Dawn Center, Hernando POP, the Hernando County Anti-Drug Coalition, the NAACP and the Hernando County Education Foundation also participate.
Clark wants parents to know children will be safe at the camp. All volunteers must go through a Hernando County School Board background screening, he said.
"It costs about $91 for them to be background-screened and make sure everyone is fit to be around children," he said.
The ratio of helpers is one for every 10 children, with 15 volunteers and Clark on the premises at all times. Helpers include Clark's wife, Jacqueline; two daughters, Amanda and Clarissa, and members of his church.
"We'll get some parents that will volunteer that are not doing anything during the summer, and we'll take them through the process of being screened, give them an ID badge," he said. "We attempt to utilize parents as volunteers as their buy-in. It's important that we get some type of parental buy-in, so that they can feel like they are a part of and take ownership of a portion of this camp, without hitting them with a financial buy-in."
There will be an orientation for parents and another for volunteers before camp begins.
Clark said the camp is a lot of fun for kids. And there's another reason he thinks camp for children is a good idea.
"We were able to have 150 kids off the streets," he said, "doing something positive for 10 weeks."