Giving Back: Kids On the Move summer camp provides guidance & fun to children in need

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, June 12, 2019

LAPLACE — Karina Portillo, a native of Lima, Ohio, was only 6 years old when her mother passed away. She and her five brothers went to live with their grandmother, and it took the kindness of the community to provide a safe environment for them to thrive.

A local businessman sponsored her family, covering all tuition fees for a summer camp focused on character building and positive mentoring in addition to recreational activities.

Those six years at summer camp molded Portillo to the person she is today. After moving to St. John the Baptist Parish, she sought to provide the same opportunity to a new generation of children in need.

Portillo is director of New Wine Christian Fellowship’s Kids on the Move summer camp, an eight-week program that serves local children ages 3 to 13.

Kids on the Move started 16 years ago, after Portillo shared her story with Pastor Neil Bernard. The program started with 30 participants in its inaugural year and has since expanded to reach approximately 400 children each summer.

“We realized there was a great need for kids in our community that are fatherless, motherless or have a mother or father incarcerated,” Portillo said. “It gives the parents a wholesome environment for the kids to come where they know they’re safe, but they’re also learning and having fun over the summer instead of sitting at home and having idle time.”

Kids on the Move campers dance together during morning assembly Monday in LaPlace.

Idle time is never good for a child, according to Portillo. Rather than sitting at home playing video games or getting into trouble, children can socialize with peers, engage in educational STEM projects, swim and go on exciting field trips with Kids on the Move.

This week, children are headed to the Audubon Zoo.

Each morning starts with an assembly featuring spirit competitions and praise and worship through song and dance. Morning devotionals build character skills, and each week has a theme representing an important life lesson.

Last week, in the first week of camp, children learned about friendship and how to love others who are different than you.

According to Portillo, an upcoming weekly theme will be, “Free to be me.”

“Whether they are black, white, tan, wear glasses or have long hair or short hair, it gives them positive reinforcement to be free to who God has called them to be,” Portillo said.

In 2018, nearly 200 of the 400-plus participants attended Kids on the Move on scholarship, according to Pastor Neil Bernard.

Scholarships are geared toward family with a parent incarcerated and single parent families with an income level below $25,000 per year. Many families are able to attend eight weeks of camp free of charge, save for the cost of the camp T-shirt.

Camp counselor Daryl Means is a mentor for the 12- and 13-year-old boys.

“Today, kids who grow up in a single parent home and do poorly in school have higher odds of ending up in the judicial system,” Bernard said. “We started kids not just for kids who come from a two-parent home, but especially for those kid who would never be able to come to camp otherwise. We try to work with every parent to give them a break in some way so we can make sure every child who needs to be in camp is able to come.”

The Christian component of the summer camp sets it apart, Bernard said. Through the years, the spiritual focus has remained while the camp has expanded to include numerous opportunities.

A partnership with United Way introduced STEM activities to the camp in 2018. Children learned to build bridges last week, and Bernard said a robotics lessons and a field trip to the Apple Store are soon to come this summer.

Bernard thanks the sponsoring agencies that have afforded children the opportunity.

Summer Camp runs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with before and after care options open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Lunch is provided through the St. John the Baptist Parish summer feeding program.

There is still time to sign children up for camp on a three-day or five-day basis, week-by-week. For more information, visit