Is it camp that needs its staff or is it the staff that need camp? Time and time again I have heard teens tell their faith story by beginning with, “I grew up in a Christian home, but camp is where it really all started.” I have a hunch that the people who choose to work at a summer camp really need the community in order to grow, whether they are aware of that when they apply or not.
I have worked at Mennonite Church Alberta’s Camp Valaqua for seven summers now and this past season I was the counsellors-in-training (CIT) director. My group of CITs were made up of 16- and 17-year-olds who were ready and excited to spend a whole summer in cabins with a bunch of kids.
I developed a program for them that focussed on community building—getting to know God and themselves, and what it means to live in community—in order to become excellent counsellors and leaders. In their faith stories the theme of feeling close to God at camp was always present, and it was their hope that by working at Valaqua they can grow in their faith.
I worked hard this summer at creating a safe place for all my CITs. My group was eager, excited, passionate, fun-loving and ready for just about anything. Discussions usually wound up involving intense topics, but they took to it with enthusiasm, knowing they were all able to voice an opinion. It was incredible to see the way they began to form deep relationships, and care and encourage each other daily. I loved facilitating their learning and guiding them through their summer. It was an absolute joy to see teens starting down the path of leadership in a ministry that I am so passionate about.
But I don’t think their leadership role concludes at the end of August. Camp is only the beginning. Whether they know it or not, the seed has been planted and they will eventually start seeking out other avenues to get involved. “Community” is addictive and it leaves you searching and creating that in other places, like Youth Leadership Team, a group of teens that plan Alberta-wide youth events and for many years has consisted primarily of Valaqua staff.
Helping out with Sunday school/youth group or children’s choir, or becoming more involved in church events, are other avenues that staffers begin to engage with. The ways in which a person is changed after working a summer at camp are numerous, and it is crucial for young teens to have that place to grow in order to find their role as a leader in the church.
Allison Goerzen grew up at Bergthal Mennonite Church near Didsbury, Alta., and spent many summers at Camp Valaqua as a camper, volunteer and on staff. She is currently working in Edmonton and attending First Mennonite Church, where she volunteers as a youth sponsor along with her fiancé, Kevin Stoesz.
--Posted Sept. 10, 2014