Lockwood church offers free sports camps to children in the community

2014-07-12T00:15:00Z Lockwood church offers free sports camps to children in the communityBy SUSAN OLP solp@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Fellowship Baptist Church is always looking for ways to help the community.

The Lockwood church offers a food pantry and free clothing to people in need. Volunteer tutors work with students from Lockwood Schools, and the church also helps with summer maintenance projects at the school.

So it’s no surprise that for the first time this summer, the congregation will offer a free sports camps for youth in Lockwood and beyond.

“Our goal is to reach out to the Lockwood community and Billings at large and make a difference in the lives of those who live out there,” said the Rev. Ray Willis, minister of evangelism and discipleship.

Three sports camps, focused on football, basketball and soccer, will take place simultaneously July 21-25 at Lockwood Grade School. The camp will focus on third- through fifth-graders in the mornings and sixth- through eighth-graders in the afternoon.

The week will wrap up with a free block party, featuring carnival-style games and food, on the west side of the grounds that used to house the Lion’s Lair playground. Last year, a similar event drew nearly 200 kids and 100 adults, Willis said.

The staff, all who are volunteers, include those who have played or coached at the high school, college or professional level. Some are members of the Southern Baptist denomination and others come from the community. High school athletes will also help out during the week.

Among those planning to help coach the kids are Tuff Harris, who played football professionally for the Miami Dolphins, and Mark Burr, who played football in college and now is general manager for the newly formed Billings Wolves of the Indoor Football League.

The idea for the camp started with Willis, who knows that sports camps can be out of reach financially for a lot of families. With that thought and little else to work with, he started praying.

“When the Lord laid this on my heart last fall, we didn’t have one dime or piece of equipment,” Willis said. “The Lord provided funds through a lot of different sources.”

Donations ranged from a large check from the denomination’s national mission board to a donation from a family Willis knows and bumped into at a Billings store. Some local businesses also have contributed to the camp.

Members of the Lockwood church plan to help at the camp and the block party, which isn’t surprising. The church’s desire to reach out is written into its DNA, Willis said.

“Christ lived his life always giving himself away,” he said. “We want to help and we try to find every way we can to help people.”

Fellowship Baptist has been part of the Lockwood community for about 35 years. Willis, who has been a pastor for 42 years, came to the Lockwood church as a missionary seven years ago.

The modest-sized church has a Sunday attendance of about 50 adults and children. It also holds a midweek prayer service and Bible study.

As for the regular ministries, the food pantry regularly aids four or five families a week. They come to the church to get nonperishable foods and hygiene items, as well as diapers that they can’t buy with Food Stamps.

The Clothes Closet is filled with clothing for people of different shapes and sizes. The church also has limited funds for emergency situations.

“For example, Lockwood Schools called us just after school started last fall,” Willis said. “Thirteen students didn’t have gym shoes, their parents couldn’t afford to buy them, so we did.”

Each fall, the church also holds a school supply give-away, where parents are invited to come in and pick up supplies their children need. Members also offering tutoring to area students at the church and help out at the school.

“In the last four years we’ve painted any and everything they can’t afford to,” Willis said.

Last year they were invited to a board meeting, where board members thanked them for saving the district $9,000 in maintenance costs. This summer, the church won’t do the work alone.

About 60 Baptist volunteers will come from Tennessee, California and Georgia to help out during the same week as the camp.

“Everything we’re doing, we’re doing in one week to help Lockwood,” Willis said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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