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Camp Gives Families a World of Good
What does an organization do at camp when a main part of its mission is to serve a constituency that is aging? What can camp leaders do to respond to the growing issue in the U.S. of who has access to nature so essential to every person's development? How do we assist people in developing healthy relationships with those who matter most in their lives?
These and similar questions have been buzzing around the meetings of the program division of the Camp and Retreat Ministry Team of the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church for several years.
The answer: expand our family camping opportunities. Today, at our six campsites throughout the two states of Idaho and Oregon we offer as many as twenty-five different sessions each year for families of all kinds and descriptions. It is the largest growing segment of our total camping program.
Though family weekend retreats and traditional family camps at several sites still are a mainstay of the family camp picture, the real growth has come in more specialized events. These include: GrandCamps (for grandparents and grandchildren); Mom and Me/Dad and Me weekends (for parent or aunt/uncle or other significant adult mentor and child); Shakespeare Camps (for families with an interest in theater to take advantage of our proximity to a noted regional theater); All Invited Family Weekend (for GLBTQ [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning] families and allies); Family Work Weekends (opportunities to do volunteer service together both at camp and in surrounding communities and a great way to teach compassion); Creation Vacation Camps (a supported family vacation for low-income families — see the article in the May/June 2002 Camping Magazine); and Strength for the Journey Family Camp (for families in which one or more member is living with HIV+/AIDS).
Our newest effort to reach families is called Spiritlife Family Vacation Camp, especially designed for families who are vacationing in the popular tourist location of northeastern Oregon's Wallowa Mountains. We have devoted our whole site there (Wallowa Lake, Joseph, Oregon) to adult and family ministries, including building new facilities to accommodate this vision.
What Have We Learned
What have we learned? Lots! Here are some of our best practices, helpful hints, and considerations for your camp's family programs:
In order to reach children today, one must reach the family.
To serve families appropriately, you must think through your policies ahead of time.
Must adults "go in the ‘In door'" and "out the ‘Out door'" in the dining hall and sing a silly song if they forget to do it right, or is this just not appropriate when dealing with adults instead of an all-child group? Or, is it time to completely rethink that old tradition anyway! If you can anticipate some of the questions that you might face before starting to invite families to participate, you'll be in the best position to welcome everyone and keep everyone safe and satisfied.
Be creative . . . .
Our mission to assist and encourage local churches to reach out with open minds, open hearts, and open doors to all their neighbors has driven our work with many special populations. Currently several county agencies on aging are asking us to work with them to modify our GrandCamp design to meet the needs of grandparents who are raising grandchildren. Since the need for respite for the grandparents and special support for the children in these situations (which are often born of grief of one kind or another) are so great, we will blend elements from our Creation Vacation model together with our GrandCamp model to serve this growing need. Each family unit will have a "Family Friend" (an adult volunteer) available to them during their time at camp — to assist in whatever ways necessary that permit the family to have the best possible shared experience through all that camp can offer them.
Solve problems together.
Think through the schedule.
Build a "village."
Does everyone want any adult to intervene if an issue of someone's safety is in question? (Usually a "yes.") When, or is it ever appropriate, to discipline a child in a situation other than an immediate safety situation? That may be more complicated, and best to talk about beforehand. Is it O.K. for children to roam as long as they are with a buddy, or only when an adult is within ear or eye range—or just what will be your best policy given your site? How can we utilize the best in our camp's group-building facilitation possibilities to the benefit of the individual families and the "village" of families as a whole?
Review your facilities.
The challenges can be many, but the joy of reaching more and more people through family camping may be just right for the mission of your camp. If so, start talking with others in your communities who care about families. You are sure to find some partners with whom to make a start. Camp can give families a world of good!
Lisa Jean Hoefner is a United Methodist pastor and camp leader, having served as director of camps in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, before coming to Oregon in 1998. She is currently the executive director of Camp/Retreat Ministries of the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Portland. She has been an active member in ACA since 1976.
Originally published in the 2006 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.