By Katie Morrison

Another summer season has come and gone. That also means hundreds of young people have experienced one of youth ministries’ most powerful tools: summer camps. On any given week, campers could be seen rushing to their next activity. Young laughter echoed as kids splashed around in the pool. A stream of boys tromped over to the lake intent on canoeing better than anyone ever has before.

“My favorite part is the horses,” exclaimed seven-year-old Cub camper, Callie. “They’re so big and beautiful.” Sophia, a fellow camper, nodded in agreement. Another girl, Leila, loved the nature aspect of camp. “But I don’t like going in the lake. There are leeches in there!”

These are just a few of the responses from Cub I, the first full week of camp Glacier View Ranch (GVR) runs. The order of camp weeks was as follows: Cub II, Junior, Family, Tween, Teen Outpost, and Teen. Junior and Teen Outpost camps were already full with a waitlist before the camp season even began. Following Glacier View’s final week, the Mills Spring Ranch in Wyoming hosted its summer camp week, for ages 9-17.

Glacier View is refusing to be complacent about the camp experience. With every staff hire and every decision made, the camp’s goal is never forgotten. It seems that simply being on the property brings change. “I crave to create a slower pace of life, a chance to just breath deep,” says Rocky Mountain Conference youth leader, Steve Hamilton. “At Glacier View, we try to build relationships through nature.” Environment and experience are everything. Camp is an opportunity to have fun on a mountain, sure. More than that however, it is a chance to slow down and connect on a spiritual level. That’s where the staff comes in.

Staff influence

In the past, due to leadership changes, it was hard to build long term continuity. New directors came and left after a single year, leaving staff asking questions. What was the motivation behind this decision? Where is this going? How can we accomplish that?

The staff continuity GVR has this year is a huge blessing. “The vision has changed,” said programs director Drew Mekelberg. “Instead of just surviving year to year, we are looking forward to the future.” Staff like Marissa Montgomery and Zach Kast have worked at the camp for more than five years. Good returning staff improve the camp quality exponentially. The staff build muscle memory, making it easier to create a good environment.

The leadership at GVR is adamant about the importance of a dedicated team. “Staff is 100 percent priority,” confirms Jim Hughes, camp director. “Staff mentorship and its part in revealing Christ is huge. Team is super important.” All camp employees face unexpected challenges. They all tackle tasks they never thought they would. What’s impressive about the people at camp is their willingness to do. Their attitudes set the environment and shape the culture on the mountain, which in turn influences how the campers and visitors will be impacted.

Challenges of working at camp

Although working at a summer camp for two months sounds like a dream, there are some challenges. For one thing, it’s physically exhausting. “It’s a complete commitment once you get up the mountain,” Zach Kast said. “You need to have 110% energy, 24/7 for eight weeks straight.”

“People don’t recognize the huge impact spiritual warfare plays on camp,” Heidi Littell, assistant RMC youth director and programming director, explained. “Kids come from all different homes and situations. We have no idea what their history is. You can spend a week building a relationship with a camper just to have them yell that they hate you and never want to speak to you again. You only have one week to spiritually impact their lives forever and that is stressful sometimes.”

Even with the experience and the walkie-talkies, coordinating is a challenge. “Coordinating everyone is tricky,” said Mekelberg. “Getting everyone on board with the same thing, making sure everyone knows what’s going on and just general communication are huge challenges at a camp with 70 employees.”

With all the challenges, the blessings are still boundless. Staff and campers alike walk away from their experiences changed forever. “You’ll do things you never thought possible,” Montgomery said.

Programming emphasis

“In the future, we want to look back on this summer as an example of top quality programming,” Hamilton declared. The majority of staff week was dedicated to programming, which refers to skits, music, and nightly staff-led entertainment. More hours than ever before were spent learning and memorizing lines and practicing the content.

The theme throughout each week was “Thrive.” Every day, there was a new area the campers were encouraged to “thrive” in. Littell is in her second year as staff but grew up at GVR and knows the ins and outs of camp. “Kids learn best through stories,” she said. “Sixty percent of the campers here aren’t Adventist. This is often the first time they’re hearing these stories.”

Because of the potential, GVR is trying to share these stories in the highest quality way possible. “Just because we have flashy props and skits doesn’t mean we lose the focus,” explained Becca O’Hare, one of the assistant directors. “We always aim to creatively show the ‘why’ of things: Jesus and His love.”

Wyoming camp

At the end of the summer, most of the GVR staff packed up and headed to Wyoming for a week at Mills Spring Ranch. Run by Anthony and Karina Handal, the camp welcomed 43 kids, which is a huge percentage of the constituents for that state.

With so many of the Adventist young people in Wyoming already attending the camp, major growth can only be accomplished by looking outside of the church. The leadership of the camp is looking forward to using evangelistic opportunities and seeing what God has in store for the future.

Many people who worked at camp as teens or young adults years ago now have full-time careers that cannot be put on hold for a summer up at GVR. Mills Spring Ranch is the perfect solution. This camp, because it’s only a week long, appeals to them. For just a week, they can experience the enrichment that comes from showing kids the spirit of Jesus.

“The camp in Wyoming is the hidden gem of the Rocky Mountain Conference. In some ways it’s a form of time travel back to camp in the 50s,” Steve Hamilton said. “It’s simple and uncluttered, allowing spiritual blessing to come through without distractions.”

Katie Morrison was RMC summer communication intern.