Camp programs were in full swing alongside Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) hammers at Camp Valaqua this summer. MDS teams are usually found on disaster sites, helping to rebuild homes, so why are they building cabins at a thriving church camp? And why are there children wearing hardhats, pounding nails and using staple guns?
Project director Glen Kauffman is keen on MDS’s recent foray into family building projects. In 2013, family teams built six cabins at Camp Evergreen, a Mennonite Brethren facility near Sundre, Alta. The project went well, and in 2014 MDS worked on four cabins for Camp Valaqua, the Mennonite Church Alberta camp.
Kauffman feels it is crucial for the future of MDS to help young people understand what it does, and the best way to do that is to have them help with the work. Work on church campsites was a natural fit. “A disaster setting is not usually conducive to children,” he says. “A camp project is a safer and more defined type of project for children.”
Children work alongside their parents, doing whatever fits with their individual abilities and age. “It is a win-win situation,” he says. “[We are] supporting churches that support MDS.”
In addition to learning about construction and MDS, children who helped build now will be able to attend camp in the future and feel they are a part of its history.
Ben Jowett-Stark, a 13-year-old builder, said the project was “awesome. I flipped, like, three or four walls! Flipping the floors was scary and fun. . . . Mom has done some [MDS work] before, but I didn’t know what it would be like till I tried it.”
Nine-year-old Kobe Friesen thinks that he’d like to do MDS work in the future, “to help build things for people to have a place.”
Willie and Jacquie Friesen from La Crete, Alta., have done MDS projects before, but “we’ve never been on a site where we were not the only ones with kids,” Jacquie says. “We’re very glad [MDS] decided to do this.”
Val Jowett-Stark was thankful for the family-build opportunity for her children, “because of what the kids learn from working with really good, godly men. They had a great time!”
Over the course of four weeks, the Valaqua project involved approximately 80 adults and children, ranging in age from 2 to 69. MDS was self-contained, with its own cooking and bunk trailers set up on Valaqua’s basketball court, along with camping trailers families brought for themselves. Participating families came from a wide area, encompassing La Crete to the north, Lethbridge to the south, Chilliwack to the west and Winnipeg to the east.
Involving children, changing crews weekly and dealing with wacky Foothills weather meant that hard targets were difficult to set.
“It is important to have the children involved,” Kauffman says. “Efficiency is not our first concern. It is to promote family involvement. . . . It is a seed-planted project. That is what camps are about. This project is about planting seeds in children as well.”
MDS plans to continue doing family building projects, with the next stop at MC Saskatchewan’s Camp Elim next summer.
--Posted August 28, 2014