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Portsmouth summer camp could close due to lack of funding

For the last 30 years, HOPE Charitable has helped teens with school and character development. The founder says with high crime, it's more important than ever.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A Portsmouth summer camp aimed at keeping kids off the streets might not happen this year.

Organizers with the HOPE Charitable Services nonprofit have been putting this camp on for almost three decades, but now, they can’t afford it.

Gun violence is traumatizing people all over Portsmouth.

"It affected her to the point where she did not want to go outside and play," said Jacynthia Jenkins.

She said a bullet flew through their house about a month ago, forcing her 13-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Hunter, to seek therapy to heal.

"I literally had to push her on the ground because she didn’t know what to do and we just laid on the floor," said Jenkins.

Now, as her fear subsides, she’s gearing up to volunteer at the annual summer camp-- a camp she's attended herself.

"It’s very beneficial and you will see the results. This ministry has done a lot for the community," said Jenkins.

However, because of financial hardships, organizers might not be able to pull it off this year. Bishop Frank Allen, who runs the organization, said the last two years have been difficult for everyone.

"Two years has hit our donor base really hard because of COVID," he said.

Camp counselors will primarily focus on academics and character building.

"We have two major goals for summer camp this year. That’s to keep kids in the classroom and off the streets, especially recently with the decrease in academic performance and the increase in community violence," said Kameron Billings, camp coordinator.

Allen said academically speaking, they're really focusing on reading and math because based on their conversations with the Portsmouth Public School system, that's where students need the most help.

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"We’ve had kids catch three and four grades in as short as a summer," Allen said.

He said they’re expecting 60 + campers throughout the eight-week program.

"We're expecting a number of children who are coming from families that have lost children, these children's siblings, to gun violence on the streets," Allen said.

Allen said if they raise the funds and the camp moves forward, he's calling this year "the summer of hope."

"So much of our programming is around restoring hope, building peace, and helping our inner-city neighbors that have lost so much find themselves by offering support through these difficult times. Through our summer program, we help families with prepared meals, groceries, clothing, housing, advocacy, practical social work, supportive services, and with their children by providing academic support and recreation in a safe place," he said.

Allen said he hopes the lessons they teach during the camp are lessons these teens can carry with them their whole lives.

"The thing that we're doing, we're transferring not only hope and help and academic, but we're also taking the time to help these children build values. We're not only teaching them what not to do and what to do to be good citizens, but we're teaching them why. We're taking the time to help them understand why so they can build their own moral fiber and their own character," he said.

RELATED: Portsmouth police provide update on Crime Prevention Plan

Jenkins can attest to that. She said HOPE has impacted her family in a major way. She quit using drugs, met her husband and had her daughter all while being involved with the organization. She said she's happy her daughter gets to grow up around such a caring group of people.

"This is a ministry that just doesn't talk the talk, they walk the walk and I am an example of the love that HOPE Charitable has given to me and to my family," Jenkins said.

Allen emphasized it’s vital to pour resources into these kids.

"It’s people like them that will change the problem. It’s people like them that will fix this broken city," he said.

Allen said it costs around $55,000 to pull off the camp. He said he knows wallets are tight right now, but he's hoping the Hampton Roads community can pitch in what they can to help. Camp is scheduled to being June 27.

If you want to donate, click here. To learn more about what HOPE Charitable Services can do for you year-round, or to sign up to volunteer, click here to visit their website.

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