Fourteen-year-old Thierry Bahati flashes a grin in the direction of his friends as his horse, Ebony, saunters around the pen. Well, it’s not his horse, exactly. The horse he is riding technically belongs to Stone Creek Camp, but for a bit, it’s easy to imagine he’s on an adventure of his own.
Bahati grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, before coming to America as a refugee. “We used to live in the middle of nowhere and take care of cows and goats and corn. [Going to the farm] felt like going back to my house.” Bahati now lives in an apartment complex off of a busy street in Louisville with his parents and two younger sisters. “Riding horses was really cool. It was my first time ever riding one,” he adds, his familiar smile rising with the memory.
Kenzie Young and Hope Place Director Kristy Robison began planning this outing last summer when Robison learned that Young operated a handful of summer camp sessions each year. Robison was excited to begin figuring out the logistics for funding and the transportation required to carry over fifty Hope Place kids, plus parents and volunteers across Louisville for the two-day experience.
During camp, the kids also swam in a pond, zip-lined, and tie-dyed t-shirts. Many of them had never before hiked a wooded trail or mounted a horse. Some bought their first-ever bathing suits for this event.
“It is just a little bit easier to breathe when you’re in the country. There is something about being outside and being with animals that helps to counteract the stresses of life,” explains Young. “It is therapeutic to stand in the summer sun and brush a horse or hold a kitten as it falls asleep.”
Hope Place has hosted ten camps in all this summer, growing significantly from the single four-day camp last year. Camp options this year included cooking, music, construction, dance, gardening, basketball, a reprisal of last year’s Wacky Wednesdays, the Stone Creek Camp, and two cultural camps, one run by the Karen people and the other by the Chin people of Myanmar. A total of nearly 250 children were served by these camps and the countless volunteers that worked them.
College student Eh Htoo served for two weeks at Karen Bible Camp. Darting from classroom to classroom and from basement to office, Htoo taught, translated, and made copies for the sixty or so Karen kids in attendance each day. Htoo, a refugee herself, arrived in America twelve years ago.
During Karen Camp, children learned Bible stories and songs in their native language. “We don’t want them to forget about their culture or their language because one day, when they grow up, our people will need help with our language and it’s important for them to know about our culture,” says Htoo.
Last year, Beechland Karen Baptist Church’s pastor Saw Gay ran this camp out of his own family’s apartment. Originally, he planned to continue to use his home again this year, when space was offered at Hope Place. Hope Place partnered with the church by supplying them with some materials and copies, providing lunch, and arranging for a visiting team to lead a few mini-camps under Gay’s oversight.
With summer coming to an end, Hope Place is gearing up for fall after-school programming. Hope Place kids, however, have accumulated a variety of new skills and memories of their adventures. Kids like Thierry Bahati and his sister Sophie Mwanzagaza, who explains what she will remember most about the summer: “At basketball camp, I finally learned how to play basketball. But I also learned about being respectful and kind, and I made a lot of new friends.”