Kids Across America (KAA) is a set of segregated Kanakuk camps for “urban youth” ages nine to 18. Neighboring Kanakuk Kamps and referred to as part of Kanakuk’s “family of ministries,” the subsidized KAA camps serve up to 6,984 campers and 1,224 “urban youth” leaders (called Kaleos) each summer season. Kaleos work with KAA kids in their home communities around the U.S. and chaperone them at camp. Over 600 college students per year are historically co-recruited with Kanakuk Kamps and hired as summer counselors for KAA. High-profile music artists such as Lecrae and Jordin Sparks and other celebrities have visited and supported KAA over the years.
Founded by Joe White, KAA’s history dates back to 1978 and involves multiple iterations:
- 1978 Kanakuk Kamps launches KAA by allowing the final week of the summer exclusively to host inner-city youth who otherwise could not afford Kanakuk Kamps.
- 1985 The I’m Third Foundation is created as a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to oversee and fund the week offered to inner-city youth at Kanakuk Kamps.
- 1991 A separate campground was built for Kids Across America (KAA1).
- 1995-2001 Additional campgrounds are built to expand Kids Across America (KAA2, Higher Ground and KAA3).
- 2000 I’m Third Foundation is renamed Kids Across America Foundation.
- 2018 The Kids Across America Foundation board approved the creation of a new Missouri nonprofit called Kids Across America. As of December 31, 2019, the Kids Across America Foundation transferred all assets to the organization, transacted as an acquisition. Kids Across America maintained the same board and leadership as Kids Across America Foundation.
- 2019 Kids Across America (the new 501(c)3) is granted tax exempt status by the IRS.
Tuition-paying (mostly white) Kanakuk Kamps families are encouraged to donate to KAA at the end of each camp term by signing a baseball that can sponsor a nearby cabin of “less fortunate” (mostly Black) children the following summer, a fundraising practice that powered KAA for decades.
While KAA is technically its own non-profit now, the Joe White and Kanakuk Ministries ties remain strong, both currently and historically:
- John Jensen, Chief Business Officer for Kanakuk (as of 2021), currently serves on the KAA board of directors.
- Joe White served on the KAA board of directors from 2001 to 2015, and his son, Cooper White, served on the board of directors from 2006 to 2007.
- As of 2021, Kanakuk and KAA recruit counselors together at colleges and universities around the country with the co-branded tagline, “This is Kanakuk & KAA.”
- On its 2018 IRS 990 tax form, donations-dependent KAA reports donating a building (valued at $18,675) to revenue-generating Kanakuk Ministries.
- KAA makes annual donations to the Kanakuk Institute (founded and run by longtime Kanakuk director Keith Chancey) for scholarships.
- Kanakuk Kamps has made annual five-figure donations to KAA.
- Joe White was instrumental in hiring key staff members for KAA.
- Former KAA president from 1996-2015, Gregg Bettis, lists his current role as Assistant to the President of Kanakuk Ministries.
While KAA uses Kanakuk’s Child Protection Plan (CPP), the 2020 KAA Kaleo Handbook makes no mention of how to report misconduct. There have been allegations of physical, spiritual, racial, and sexual abuse by former KAA campers and counselors. Historically, Kanakuk and KAA both include “Cross Talk” (7:04) rituals during each camp term as a call to salvation, and one former counselor alleges he was beaten to the point of a concussion playing the role of Jesus in a weekly crucifixion reenactment for six weeks, as traumatized children watched in horror.
KAA did not operate in 2020, providing camp virtually and claiming that it was not financially viable to open in-person amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, due to their dependence on donations. Kanakuk Kamps operated in 2020 despite the pandemic.