By Elise Modrovich
Special to the Sun
It is the first Friday of the month, and to the boys at Camp Owen, that means one thing: the “Cake Ladies” are coming. For over 48 years, the women and men of the Kernville United Methodist Church (KUMC) have been baking and delivering between ten and fourteen cakes every month to celebrate the boys’ birthdays. KUMC, which will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2020, is one of the few original “Old Kernville” buildings relocated to the “heart of the new town” when the Isabella Dam was built between 1948 and 1953. Parishioner Sue McKinney, who has been involved with the cakes for 43 of those 48 years and now coordinates the effort, explains, “I don’t know exactly how it started, but when I joined the church, I knew I had to be a part of it.”
Founded in 1938, Camp Erwin Owen is a non-secure juvenile forestry “honor and work” camp that houses up to 125 wards between the ages of 14 and 18 who are committed by the juvenile court. The camp averages 450 admissions per year, and although it was designed as a 6-month program, the length of stay averages at just over 3 months and is determined by behavior, prior history of criminal activity, commitment offenses, gang/drug activity and academic background. With new faces showing up on a regular basis, the need for cakes is ongoing because, “for most of these boys, they’ve never had a birthday cake before,” says McKinney. “I think of when we were kids, how important that was, and if I can provide them with having a birthday celebration, I want to do it.” Elissa Beckham, a Career Associate at Camp Owen, says, “The boys really love it. They really look forward to it every month.”
Recently, McKinney’s husband Tom made a trip to Bakersfield to pick up a large batch of eggs from Farmer Brothers, and when the manager inquired what all the eggs were for, McKinney got a surprise. “Turns out he had been a student at Camp Owen,” Sue McKinney recalls. “He said, ‘I remember those cakes.’ Here he is now, a responsible young man who turned his life around, and he talked about how much that small act of kindness meant to him. You just have no idea what an impact baking a cake can make on someone’s life.” Camp Owen Director Robert Kilgore says, “It truly means something special for our young men who cannot be home to celebrate a birthday. Since my arrival at Camp Owen as the Director over two years ago, I am never ceased being amazed at how this wonderful community reaches out to our youth.”
The cakes are all personally and selflessly funded by the participating KUMC parishioners, who plan to continue baking cakes as long as there are Camp Owen boys in need of a birthday celebration. If you would like to reach out and donate to the “Cake Ladies” to help them continue what Camp Owen student Tyler R. describes as “the lifelong commitment the congregation has made for us here at Camp Erwin Owen,” you can reach Sue McKinney through the historic Kernville United Methodist Church, located at 251 Big Blue Road, or by calling 760-376-2751.