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Recovery ministry creates new summer camp to reach local youth
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Jazmin Padilla learns all about gardening at Prodigal Sons and Daughters' The Creative Summer Camp (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

A revamped youth program at Prodigal Sons and Daughters is giving students a safe, fun environment to hone new skills, create new friendships and learn life lessons while school is out at The Creative Summer Camp.

Well-known around town as a faith-based addiction recovery ministry, Prodigal Sons and Daughters also focuses heavily on preventing the city’s youth from falling into a life of substance abuse. The organization has partnered with Turlock Unified School District so that when children at school get into alcohol- or drug-related problems, they are referred to Prodigal for help.

Joshua Jackson, the organization’s Youth Director since April, said he wanted to help build the youth program up as an outlet for students who aren’t necessarily troubled, but may be in search of a fun, supportive environment over the summer. The Creative has provided such a space, with a two-week long camp for junior high students finishing up on Friday, and another for high schoolers set to begin on Monday.

“By the grace of God, in one month we were able to put together a camp that’s free for everyone,” Jackson said. “Everyone here is volunteering their time to help out kids.”

Students participating in The Creative have been able to experience new activities thanks to volunteers like a professional chef, photographer, artist and even a hip hop dancer. Jackson explained that the variety of classes available to kids who participate in the camp not only keeps them from getting into trouble on the streets, but also helps them focus on themselves rather than social media.

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The Prodigal Sons and Daughters game room, where Azael Gil is pictured taking a pool shot, is a safe space where children and teens can find fun this summer (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

“Kids are always on their cell phones and always looking at Instagram. As you’re looking at Instagram or other sites, that influences a person. So, they’re always being told what they should look like, how they should talk and what they should be instead of exploring their own hobbies and exploring who they are for themselves,” Jackson said. “Coming here and being able to take photography of art or hip hop class, these kids are realizing they have other gifts that they can use other than just scrolling on their phones and wishing they were something they’re not.”

Soon-to-be sixth grader Jairo Barba has a passion for cooking, he said, and enjoyed learning how to cook pizza and kebabs during the two-week junior high camp.

“I like to help my mom cook and when I grow up, I want to be a chef or pastry chef so I enjoyed the cooking class,” he said. “I learned about yeast and how it’s alive, and I didn’t know that before.”

Jazmin Padilla, who will be in fifth grade next year, said she learned valuable lessons during The Creative.

“I learned to not do drugs, not to do bad stuff, to pray and to listen,” Padilla said. Her favorite part about camp, however, was playing with water balloons.

High school students who participate in The Creative over the next two weeks will have the chance to partake in the same activities, Jackson explained, but will likely have deeper conversations about substance abuse and how to avoid the dangers of drugs and alcohol. The first week of July will also feature The Creative geared toward ages seven through 10.

“It gets the community together and gets the students to meet other kids, bond and go outside,” Jackson said. “It also keeps them off the streets and that’s where you learn how to do bad stuff. I never had anything like this offered to me, and if I did I probably would’ve taken it.”

The camp is a striking success given the fact that just under three years ago, Prodigal Sons and Daughters was in danger of closing its doors due to a lack of funding. Under the leadership of new Executive Director Robin Popolizio, however, donations have soared and the organization is thriving, Outreach Coordinator and Peer Counselor Christy Almatran said.

“When Robin came in she brought this new vibe to everything, and the community just started re-putting their trust in us and seeing what we’re doing,” Almatran said, adding that as outreach coordinator, she’s spread the word about Prodigal’s mission at club meetings and events throughout town. “We’ve just revamped everything and people are seeing that.”

Students who are interested in attending the high school-aged The Creative Summer Camp can register by walking into Prodigal Sons and Daughters, 352 E. Olive Ave., or by calling the organization at 209-634-3538. The community is also invited to attend Prodigal’s upcoming seminar, Overcoming Emotions That Destroy, which will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday.