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GVR 2018 Summer Camps: "I don't want to go from here!" »
When a week at summer camp at Glacier View Ranch ends, the best evaluation of its success is when a camper leaves teary-eyed. Counsellors often hear, “I don’t want to go from here.”
Coordinating a team of twelve girl counsellors is Tabitha Flemming, a student from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is spending her two summer months at GVR. “It is worth being here. I've had counselors come tell me about the love they receive [from their campers]. If they have a troubled camper that's been giving them a hard time all week long, before they leave on Sunday they're hugging on them and saying, ‘I don't want to go, we love you so much.’
“It’s during those moments when you realize you’ve made an impact and it really pays off. It’s so worth it to work at camp, because even though you might not realize it until the end of the week, you're making a positive impact on these kids’ lives,” Tabitha shares.
Every year, there is a new set of counsellors. Together with the boys' counsellors, they form a team of 23. “We work well with each other,” she says, and adds, “This camp has my heart.”
The summer camp season in the Rocky Mountain Conference started on June 10 and will end at GVR on July 22. On the same day, a week-long summer camp for ages 8 to 17 will begin at Mill Springs Ranch in Casper, Wyoming. The camp program includes such groups as cubs, juniors, family, as well as tweens and teens.
According to Kiefer Dooley, RMC assistant director, and camp co-director, Shannon Werner, the 2018 season will not break the numbers. They anticipate that approximately 650 campers will participate. “We anticipated that there would be less campers than last year because of a few changes. The first one being the two staff in every cabin rule, which takes one camper out.”
Also, the camper registration numbers were impacted by Colorado’s regulations which mandated that “we need the [camper’s] health history form 10 days ahead of time. We can't take any reservations unless they are done 10 days prior to when they arrive at camp,” Kiefer explained.
A visitor to the GVR campsite will notice enthusiasm among the campers and staff. Nearly every week, a different group of campers arrives at GVR. This week, 117 Juniors are enjoying such activities as horseback riding, aquatics, bouldering, archery, as well as canoeing at the lake.
The activities director is another Union College student, Hanna Kern (pictured). She quickly lists the lake and horses as being the most enjoyed activities. Well organized, she shows me a number of pages with precise planning for her camp activity menu. This is her fourth year as a counselor at a summer camp, though her first at GVR.
This year, she lists two other popular activities as part of the camp offerings. Rock climbing for her is “the coolest activity to have here,” she says. “Hey, we are in the Rockies!” The second one she lists is teaching primitive skills, tailored for kids who love nature. The activity teaches wilderness survival skills, such as creating a shelter and building a fire from scratch, and all about wild edibles.
“The evening program is universal to all ages,” says Shannon Werner. The campers respond positively, as they are invited to engage in conversations between God and Moses. “Each evening they learn something new,” she adds. The evening spiritual program and games involve all campers.
According to the summer camp organizers, this year’s theme is based on the current youth ministry theme of “I am. An identity in Christ.”
Kiefer, says that this year’s program is based on the recent Love Reality Tour, one of the popular youth programs of 2018. “Our program director, Gabe Riojas, worked closely with the Love Reality Tour and brought [elements of it] into summer camp as it relates to our theme, ‘I am. An identity in Christ.’ That's touched my life and the whole youth team,” Kiefer shares.
“Now we're bringing that to the campers and already I know that some camper’s lives have changed. Staff's lives have been changed, whether it's from the whole program or they're impacted profoundly by one piece. The Adam and Eve scene touched several staff members who have been calling home and saying, ‘This has changed my outlook on so many pieces and boosted my confidence and helped me with my identity in Christ,’” he comments.
The 2018 camp is going really smooth, says Kiefer. “This year is awesome because we have so many new staff. However, no Dylan [the one with a bear-encounter last year] which means no bears. But we have seen some bears around. We’ve seen moose and one of our staff has seen a mountain lion. We have been handling that with some new protocols we put into place and wildlife officers know, and all the proper people know. We have bear spray, which is a new change, but we haven't had to use it, which is cool,” he comments.
Commenting on how the summer camp is progressing, Shannon explains that “it's easy to get caught up in the logistics of camp and making sure things are running smoothly. But then there are times when we get to go out and interact in a program or an activity with kids and hear comments that kids make. Those moments make you realize why you're doing all of this work to make it happen.”
She shares a moment that made her pause and be thankful for all her busyness. “The other day we had two kids walking past the summer camp office and one of them, just out of the blue, said to the other, ‘Hey, you ever been to GVR before?’ And the other kid said, ‘No, I'm new here.’ The first kid responds, ‘GVR will change your life.’ That was just two kids talking amongst themselves. It's those moments that remind you why it's worth it. This is why we're doing this,” Shannon said.
Behind the scenes there is a well oiled organization with several pros responsible for the planning and making sure the GVR facilities are up to scratch. “What we have here is the best we have ever had,” says staff member “Papa” Don Hill, involved with GVR events with his wife, Chris, since 1978. “There can always be improvements, but there has been much change in the last few years,” he adds.
Don says that his role involves “can you do this, can you do that; from plumbing to helping in the kitchen. His wife, Chris, says, “I do the fun things. This year I am making costumes and props for the programs. So, I made a giant fish for the Jonah story. ”It was over the top, Don quips.
Meandering around the nature center on the shore of picturesque GVR lake, are kids from many different parts of the region. Danielle travelled from Highlands Ranch; Erika, from Elizabeth; Madison, from Evans; and Renee, from Boulder. They each enjoy different activities, and they love to meet new friends. And they each make a singular comment about being at summer camp “It’s all really fun!”
-- Text and photos by Rajmund Dabrowski