Note: David Helton was a first-year student at iGovern East 2022. He quickly made many friends and made a real impact at camp. Shortly after camp, he passed away in a tragic accident. Today being the 1-year anniversary of his death, we are honoring his memory as the GenJ community. Please join us in continued prayer for his family and steadfast hope in the promise that we will see David again in the presence of our Lord.
(David Helton, pictured on the far right, at iGovern East 2022.)
By Abigail Dunlap
People truly were David Helton’s passion.
The easy-going homeschooled 16 year-old’s love of fishing, dancing, and STOA debate competitions were eclipsed only by his investment in people.
“You can see this in his prayer wall at home,” shared his mother, Maribeth Helton. David kept lists of nearly 100 people he was praying for. He led Bible studies and daily posted verses to encourage his fellow STOA debaters. He volunteered at a disaster relief organization, assembled bags to give out to homeless people. With his older brother and younger sister, David raised funds each summer for relief organizations, totally nearly $20,000 over the years.
And in the summer of 2022, David got to take his love of serving people to Generation Joshua’s iGovern East camp, an intense, week-long simulation camp for young leaders to learn what it’s like to run the country.
David’s journey to iGovern East was an unexpected one. Attending a GenJ Camp was something he’d always wanted to do. His older brother had attended five years prior and some of David’s debate friends were going that year. But financially, the camp was out of reach for him.
In March 2022, David used his skills honed by his years in STOA to deliver the winning speech at the student congress during Tennessee Home Education Association’s Rally Day in Nashville. He was one of many outstanding student speakers that Jeremiah Lorrig, Deputy Director of GenJ heard that day. Lorrig was so impressed by the quality of the students that he was moved to offer a camp scholarship to the winning speaker that would cover the cost training, food, and housing to attend. As THEA judged David the winner, Jeremiah was pleased to offer him the scholarship. David was thrilled.
For their part, David’s parents were happy to pull together the money to pay for his flight to Virginia Beach in July 2022 to attend iGovern East. “David wanted to gain a better understanding of how our government works,” said Maribeth. “As parents, we hoped the camp would help him narrow down his course of study in college.”
At camp, the simulation president appointed David as his administration’s policy director, meaning David wrote executive orders, determined policies, and drafted legislation. He also served as the president’s voice in tense situations – learning a lot about negotiation in the process according to his mother.
“He couldn’t wait for next year’s camp,” shared Maribeth.
“David was serious, fully engaged, but also personally invested in the other campers in a way that was powerful and unique,” Lorrig added.
On one particularly hectic morning, a GenJ staff member saw David walking outside alone. When the team member checked on him, David simply replied that he was just praying. The day and the people around him called for him to pray on their behalf. This was just who David was.
The fact that David prioritized people above all else was clear. Once the simulation ended, he invited the very students he’d been previously locking horns with hours earlier to a dance party—a chance for the students to relax, lay aside the seriousness of the camp, and just be teens again.
David returned home, energized.
Then, less than a month after his week at camp, David tragically drowned on a family fishing trip.
While his family, friends, and fellow homeschool debaters still deeply grieve this sudden loss, they all know without a doubt that David had lived his life to the fullest. Without exception, every speaker at David’s packed funeral recounted a time where David had encouraged them with his ready smile, laughter-inciting dance moves, and utter devotion to the God he loved.
To this day, months after David died, Lorrig still has a picture on his desk at work from the day he met David at the Tennessee rally.
“The iGovern camp is just pretend. But David’s impact on the student and the camp staff was real and tangible,” Lorrig emphasized. “He was the perfect example of the high-caliber of student GenJ looks to invest in.”