According to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated, on any given day, an estimated 2.7 million children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison or jail. That works out to be one in 28 children. Additionally, approximately 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives and nearly half of children with incarcerated parents are under 10 years of age. The trauma, stigma or shame of parental incarceration can have a profound impact on a child’s life and the importance of improving their well-being cannot be overstated.

That’s why Steve Nickens of Elite Pacific Properties signed up to volunteer at Camp Pilialoha ‘O Maui (formerly Camp Agape Maui) five years ago. In addition to standard activities like arts and crafts, archery, ziplining and swimming, Nickens says the annual four-day camp offers something incredibly precious. “It gives kids hope,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, Camp Agape, a free camp for children of incarcerated parents, held its inaugural session at Oahu’s YMCA Camp Erdman over Labor Day weekend. It has taken place every year since. After several years of chaperoning campers (called “angels”) to and from Oahu, Derek and Julie Smith, both chaplains at the Maui Community Correctional Center in Wailuku, decided it was time to bring the event to Maui. In 2014, they started Camp Agape Maui—which would eventually be renamed Camp Pilialoha ‘O Maui—for kids ages 7 to 17 at Camp Maluhia in Kahakuloa.

Every year, close to 120 children of incarcerated parents attend Camp Pilialoha ‘O Maui, which offers an intentional series of activities and events designed to fill campers’ hearts with love, trust and forgiveness. They meet one-on-one with mentors and have an opportunity to share their experiences and build relationships with other kids in similar situations. Beyond the four days in Kahakuloa, Camp Pilialoha ‘O Maui offers mentorship, activities and events throughout the year. Among other things, it connects campers to local youth groups, helps with back to school supplies and provides an annual scholarship award to one college-bound camper.

Nickens knew Smith through a men’s group at his church. When he learned about Camp Pilialoha ‘O Maui, Nickens and his wife, Ivy, signed up to volunteer. Since then, the couple has prepped and cleaned cabins, served meals to campers and scrubbed pots and pans in the camp kitchen. Apart from seeing the joy on the kids’ faces, he says he looks forward to working with the many volunteers who lend a hand at the camp. “All of the volunteers are amazing people—they dedicate their time and energy to help these kids,” Nickens said. “We are all so happy to be there. There is so much aloha.”

He also credits Camp Pilialoha ‘O Maui’s success to the generosity of the community, which has rallied to support the 501(c)3 nonprofit camp since its inception in 2014. “It’s a community effort,” he said. “And I’m so blessed to be a part of it.”

This year’s camp will take place May 22 through 25. Campers attend at no cost and receive everything they need, including a backpack, sleeping bag, flashlight, toiletries, and fresh t-shirts for each day of camp (which they get to take home with them). You can help change the life of a child by signing up to volunteer or by making a donation. For more information about Camp Pilialoha ‘O Maui or to inquire about volunteer or donor opportunities, visit www.camppilialohaomaui.com or call 214-6344.

The Maui News – March 23, 2020

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