Creating kids with character

Pastor Jonathan Leath has created a “Character Camp” in hopes of giving kids the skills to make good decisions and surround themselves with positive influences.

Former Philadelphia 76ers player Jumaine Jones speaks with the youth at the DiscoverHOPE CDC Character Camp on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 22. Jones spoke about the importance of surrounding yourself with positive influences.

When pastor Jonathan Leath of Destiny Church in Moorestown was considering what kind of camp to send his four children to this summer, it got him thinking. His daughter, Jael, said her father came to her with an idea.

“He said he wanted to have a character camp because he heard about all these other camps like basketball camp and football camp, and he was like, ‘Why don’t we have a character camp to help children grow and be a little more educated about their character and how to act around other people?’” Jael said.

For that reason, Leath created the “DiscoverHOPE CDC Character Camp” through his nonprofit DiscoverHOPE CDC, a youth leadership development organization. The camp has been held twice this summer, with the most recent taking place from Monday, Aug. 21 to Friday, Aug. 25 at Maranatha Christian Fellowship in Moorestown.

“One thing I realized we don’t need a lot more of is talented people, skillful people or gifted people,” Leath said. “We do need more gifted, talented and skilled people with character.”

The five-day camp is geared at kids in the 10- to 15-year-old age range and is a mix of activities, classroom learning and interactive games Leath hopes will help teach children about how to make good decisions and surround themselves with positive influences.

As part of the camp, Leath brings in guest speakers to talk to the kids. On Tuesday, Aug. 22, former 76ers player Jumaine Jones talked to the 16 camp attendees. Jones kicked off his visit with a listening drill in which he had the kids jump back and forth depending on whether he called out “offense” or “defense.”

Jones said the drill underscored the most important lesson he’s learned to date: listening. He told the kids if they take the time to listen to their friends, they can learn about a person’s character. He encouraged the kids to always surround themselves with people who motivate them to do better and dream bigger. He said when he started playing basketball at 11, he wasn’t very good but his friends were, which encouraged him to try hard to rise to their level.

It was always carrying himself with character that gave Jones a career after basketball, he said. Despite leaving the 76ers in 2001, when Jones retired two years ago, the organization remembered his positive influence and offered him a chance to work with it doing youth outreach, he said.

Jones said when he learned about the character camp from his friend minister Clarence Jones of Maranatha Christian Fellowship, he knew he wanted to come speak.

“It takes a community to get to kids, really,” Jones said. “If I come in being a professional athlete [who] played in the NBA for eight years, I know at that age if I heard about somebody that was in the NBA, I would be all ears trying to listen to hear what they had to say.”

In addition to the guest speakers, Leath said he is trying to teach kids practical knowledge they may not be getting in school, such as how to handle themselves on social media, decision making and even money management. Leath uses a combination of discussion, videos and activities to get kids engaged in the conversation.

For Jayden Shearin, age 11 and an attendee at the camp, the lessons have been his favorite part.

“[The lessons are] about hanging around with the right friends and building up the right character, so you’ll be better as a person,” Jayden said.

Twelve-year-old Aiden Ford echoed the sentiment. He said learning about topics such as decision making are setting him up for the future.

“[It’s about] building up the right character, so you’ll be better as a person,” he said.

While the camp costs $100 to attend, Leath said his nonprofit provided scholarships for many of the kids and did not want to create a camp that was cost-prohibitive to anyone. Looking forward, Leath’s goal is to get sponsors so the camp becomes completely free to attend.

Additionally, Leath said he’s interested in one day scaling the camp so it can go to any town or school and children receive this character curriculum.

“There’s no such thing as a bad child. There’s certain points in their life where they need to learn certain things,” Leath said. “If we just put the good stuff in them at the right time, they can think back and say how will this decision affect me. We want to create kids that think about what they do, and character is key.”

To find out more about the camp or to bring a Character Camp to your school or church, email discoverhopenj@gmail.com or visit https://www.facebook.com/discoverhopenj.