CampQuest: A summer journey of love and hope

With a pandemic on one hand and social unrest on the other, Kenadi Smith found solace in Denise Ford’s Camp Quest.

ST. PETERSBURG — A little girl sat scared and confused about the future. How would she be able to go back to school? What would she do for the summer? What was going on with protest and the nightly news filled with uncertainty? A surge of emotions rushed through her 10-year-old mind as she pondered these questions as life unfolded.

Her summers were filled with friends, field trips, and at least two pool days a week in past years.  As she attended camps such as the Childs Park YMCA and Lake Vista, summer was always a special treat.

This year would be quite different.  With a pandemic on one hand and social unrest on the other, she needed a break from the chaos of the current climate.  She’d attended a protest earlier this year and longed for ways to express herself, trying to make sense of the world from her view.

Kenadi Smith, a sixth-grader perplexed by a world she only came to know just a decade ago, needed someplace soft to land for the summer.

Fortunately, she was blessed to land in the arms of a graceful camp director named Denise Ford.  The founder of Camp Quest, Ford is no stranger to love and support.  A mother who once home-schooled her children embarked upon a virtual summer camp, and Kenadi welcomed the opportunity.

Filled with bible study, education, and entrepreneurship, Camp Quest was an amazing online experience.  Wednesdays were coined “Wellness Wednesdays” when Dr. LaDonna Butler and her team from The Well immersed the attendees in mindfulness, self-reflection, and wellness methods.

Ford is an active community member, always willing to give a helping hand and a listening ear.  Kenadi loved the comfort of bible study, complete with puppetry.  She awakened each morning knowing that with Mrs. Ford, somehow, things would work out just fine.

In Camp Quest, Kenadi also became an entrepreneur.  She started making masks.

Under the leadership of Nakena Cromartie, Kenadi and attendees of Camp Quest learned valuable lessons to help the community. Cromartie molded young leaders with her business, Sustainable Shift, a sustainable fashion company on a mission to reduce textile waste through providing services that shift our awareness and practices and sustain our wardrobes.

Cromartie also holds an MBA from Florida A&M’s School of Business and Industry. She now brings her expertise and love for fashion to young minds eager to learn.

There were also speakers, leaders, and experts. Through Zoom meetings, emails, clicks, and computers, Ford managed to keep Camp Quest moving right along, virtually.

Kenadi enjoys making masks for a worthy cause. She didn’t understand how a virus could kill so many people in such a short amount of time.  Watching the news and reading articles seemed to make her more determined to continue her efforts.  She donated her first 10 masks back to the community.

Sharing her feelings with her family and watching the news unfold daily, she wanted to make sure her grandparents, John and Catherine Smith, were safe. After learning they were a part of the most vulnerable population, she made them special masks.  They appreciated her kindness and encouraged her to continue.

Kenadi also made masks for family and friends for birthdays and special surprises. Her customers include family, firefighters, nurses, and anyone who would like to place an order. Her motto is: “I want to keep the community safe.”

She is on her way to becoming the best she can be. This year, she’ll never forget. Through her fears and uncertainty, she landed in love.  Last summer will always be a rhythm in her heart and a depth in her soul.  She is thankful beyond measure for Ford and Camp Quest, virtual memories to last a lifetime.

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