Last weekend, Camp David of the Ozarks (CDO), near Rolla, hosted its 7th bi-annual Prisoners' Family Retreat. Camp Director Ben Smith says they give hope to families affected by incarceration. Guests represented 13 families, including a total of 28 children and 13 moms/aunts/grandmothers.

Last weekend, Camp David of the Ozarks (CDO), near Rolla, hosted its 7th bi-annual Prisoners’ Family Retreat. Camp Director Ben Smith says they give hope to families affected by incarceration. Guests represented 13 families, including a total of 28 children and 13 moms/aunts/grandmothers. The weekend was provided free of charge. The moms and caregivers enjoyed a weekend with no responsibilities where they could reflect, share their stories, and gain new skills to start thriving in their time of loss.
"Over 350 families a week have a loved-one sent to prison in Missouri,” says Smith. “When most families experience a loss due to death, family and friends show up with cards and meals to show their love. However, when a family member is incarcerated, the community tends to pull away, leaving the family to deal with their grief and loss on their own.” He explains that more often than not, it is a mom, aunt, or grandparent who picks up the responsibility of caring for the children, paying court costs, and making family visits to the prison. They carry all this with one less income provider, and face the emptiness of dealing with their situation alone.
A host mom for the retreat, Kacie Long Star, said “The moms of children with incarcerated parents, grandmas, and other caretakers were invited to Camp David for a weekend retreat to relax and get "re-fueled" while the children concurrently enjoyed a fun time at camp.”  “As a host mom, my job was to listen, serve and just love on the moms and caretakers throughout the weekend."
While the kids enjoyed normal camp activities, the moms enjoyed breakfast in bed, painting, a spa night, a horse ride (for some this was their first time on a horse), and group sessions. Moms were also able to process their pain and frustrations with a group of women who really understood.   
Mercedes Bailey Rhodes shared, "When I experienced camp for the first time, I came hurt, shamed, broken, and guarded. I only had enough strength to survive to do the day-to-day things to keep my family afloat. By the end of my first retreat, I found that I was not alone and there were people out there that genuinely cared for those who are affected by incarceration. Most importantly I learned that God did not forget about me or my family.  He cares about my hurt and frustrations and needs. Since, then I have been serving as a Host Mom at these retreats.”
Rhodes continued by sharing something she experienced last weekend. "When listening to other moms share, I was able to reflect back and see how far God has brought me. As I shared my story; while thinking about where I am now, the tears began to flow. I remembered the shock and the pain being so bad I thought I was going to die. I remembered being silent, numb, and isolated. An outcast by those who I thought loved me and supported me.  I paused and took a deep breath and thanked God that I am no longer in that space. After sharing my story, many of the women came up and asked me questions like “When this or that happened, what did you do?” Or, how did you feel when…?  And, how are you making it? Also, How do you keep smiling?”  
“Surprising to myself, I was able answer those questions and share how God has provided and how he sustained me,” she added. “I was able to share how I dealt with my children when they were crying for their dad, or how I incorporated him in our lives even though he was away. A dad is an important person in a child’s life. I too once had those questions and nobody could answer them and be really honest and transparent because of the stigma that comes with incarceration. Two retreats ago, I wouldn’t have been able to be as transparent as I was this weekend. I was able to look back and see how far I have come."
Ben Smith says the retreat is made possible by caring individuals who sponsor the families. It costs $150 to sponsor a family for the weekend. CDO's services include one-on-one mentoring, after-school programs, family retreats, summer camps, and Angel Tree Christmas parties. For more information or to sponsor a family visit: campdavidozarks.org