Focus on Camps

‘A marathon of uncertainty’

A forest class at Willowgrove. (Photo by Willowgrove)

A Harvest Fest wagon ride at Willowgrove. (Photo by Willowgrove)

Young Willowgrove visitors with a ‘pumpkin person.’ (Photo by Willowgrove)

If you pivot enough times, it becomes dancing. And over this past year, Willowgrove found that, despite its Mennonite roots, it has taken to dancing quite naturally.

Johnny Wideman, Willowgrove’s executive director, only took the helm this past February, having just three weeks in the office before the COVID-19 lockdown.

Grief and loss

Thinking of our remarkable trees, never in my 14 years at Squeah have we had such losses to life and limb—trees, that is. Buildings damaged, activities crushed and some truly magnificent softwood giants have fallen. (Photo by Tim Larson)

(Photo by Tim Larson)

In the late hours of a wintry night, a cold wind blew hard up the valley. It howled from an unusual direction, bending tree and limb. Under the unaccustomed pressure, seemingly sturdy trees gave way to the unyielding force, grasping desperately to the earth as their mass was moved inexorably to the ground.

Keeping the excitement of camping alive

Campers enjoy a bonfire at Camp Elim. (Camp Elim photo)

Last year marked Camp Elim’s 75th anniversary, but it was a challenging year for us. Our plans for running camp as normal were quickly thwarted with the looming pandemic. By mid-May, it became apparent that we would not be able to operate our camper program due to government restrictions forcing the closure of overnight summer-camp programs across Saskatchewan.

A chance to try new ideas

Hidden Acres 2020 summer staff cabin, pictured from left to right: Chris Pot, Brittany Ratelband, Cassie Zehr, Julia Lantz, and Sam Bielby, (hanging upside down). (Photo by Chris Pot)

The Hidden Acres 2020 summer staff team at the pond; pictured from left to right: Cassie Zehr, Julia Lantz, Brittany Ratelband and Sam Bielby. (Photo by Chris Pot)

A group of 2019 Hidden Acres summer staff take a hike. (Photo by Aaron Lantz)

As I reflect on a year of “being camp” during COVID-19, I hear Psalm 32: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

‘Love thy neighbour’

Youth Farm Bible Camp’s corn maze theme last year was ‘Love thy neighbour,’ honouring its neighbour, the Mennonite Nursing Home, and its dedicated staff. (Photo by Mark Wurtz)

Last April, Youth Farm Bible Camp created a seven-metre snowman and sign to bless the Mennonite Nursing Home staff as they drove by. (Photo by Mark Wurtz)

Innovation, creativity and pivoting were key strengths that non-profit organizations used in 2020, especially if their main revenue streams involved gathering people together in large groups.

Two-week music camp being planned

Ontario Mennonite Music Campers participate in daily master classes with their instrument of choice, as part of two action-packed weeks of music, games, faith, concerts and friendship, in 2018. (2018 Ontario Mennonite Music Camp photo)

Ontario Mennonite Music Camp (OMMC) is a two-week camp hosted at Conrad Grebel University College, offering teenagers aged 12 to 16 an opportunity to explore both music and faith.

Silver Lake marks 60th anniversary in 2021

2020 Silver Lake Mennonite Camp Camp@Home T-shirt logo. (Silver Lake Mennonite Camp photo)

First day of Camp@Home Zoom events in 2020 for Silver Lake Mennonite Camp participants. (Silver Lake Mennonite Camp screenshot)

Sunlight-splashed trees at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp. (Photo by Jennie Wiebe)

Camp can make such a difference in the life of a camper, even over Zoom. That was the great discovery of the summer of 2020. We were very happy to see so many faces in this online experience!

Camping with a purpose

Jemma Cotrone is dressed as RBG for a costume dance party at Fraser Lake Camp. (Photo by Karie Cotrone)

Last year, Fraser Lake Camp’s cabins, which magically turn groups of kids into little families each summer, went empty. There were no echoes of rambunctious camp songs to rattle across the lake. No one reached the top of the climbing wall to the cheers of their counsellors and fellow campers below.

Many hands make the work doable

Volunteers carry out building supplies on Shekinah’s Ravine Trail. (Shekinah Retreat Centre photo)

At Shekinah we struggle to sit still. When we decided to shut our doors in March 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it not only felt foreign, it also felt wrong. It is much easier to work harder to try to solve a problem than it is to wait, watch and be still. What we have found as a staff is that slowing down and letting go has opened up new opportunities. 

Churches helping camps helping churches

Springstein congregants join others to help place sand bags at Camp Assiniboia during the flooding of 2011. (Photo courtesy of David Hogue)

After a week of non-stop activities soundtracked by endless cheering and screaming kids, you might think the staff of Camp Koinonia would sleep in. Instead, every Sunday morning they put on their Birkenstocks and cleanest clothes and head to Whitewater Mennonite Church in nearby Boissevain.

Lighting a fire in children’s faith

Huxley Phillips, left, Mason Avery and De’Sean Burnette enjoy a campfire at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp, New Hamburg, Ont. (Photo: Aaron Lantz / Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp)

Advanced Camper Experience (ACE) campers Seth Bowman, left, Adam Roth, Carter Cochrane, Philip Cressman, I.J. Bellamy, ‘Speegon’ and Gabriel VanDyk learn about leadership through canoeing. (Photo by Aaron Lantz)

Sitting around the campfire after saying goodbye to our final group of campers on the last night of the summer, the staff spent the evening reflecting on the summer and all that happened.

We told stories and laughed about all of the hilarity that ensued over the previous 10 weeks. Sometimes we cried as we reminisced about the impact that our experiences had on us.

Living sanctuaries

Leaders-in-Training Isabelle Netherton and Micah Peters-Unrau, standing left and right, are pictured with LiT leader Joanna Loepp Thiessen. (Ontario Mennonite Music Camp photo)

Every night at Ontario Mennonite Music Camp we sing a closing song around the campfire to send campers off to bed.

A path towards reconciliation

Willowgrove added the blanket exercise to its program in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, more specifically the call to educate Canadians. (Willowgrove photo)

“Now I know what I should have been teaching.”

These are the words of a retired history teacher after participating in a Kairos blanket exercise. As a blanket exercise facilitator, I am often struck by the insights of participants, adults and children alike. 

Jeremy Wiens goes to Snow Camp

Jeremy Wiens.

Mikka Kostanecki and Katrina Janssen roast hot dogs at the final campfire at MC Alberta’s Snow Camp 2020, held at Camp Valaqua. (Photo by Jon Olfert)

There are extreme weather warnings throughout the province as the wind chill dips to -40C. Yes, it’s cold, but nothing is going to stop Jeremy Wiens from going to Mennonite Church Alberta’s Snow Camp, held this year from Jan. 10 to 12 at Camp Valaqua in Water Valley.

‘Hi, let’s go join the rest of the group’

This is Fraser Lake Camp’s 65th year in operation. It serves 300 campers each summer on 110 hectares in the Canadian Shield. (Photo by Janien Reesor)

Stepping off that bus for the first time can be scary; it can be a big deal. The minds of many are on the edge of uncertainty and fear. If those steps take you into the embrace of a healthy community that welcomes you as you are, some magical things can happen. The way I see it, the community of summer camp provides two things for children: independence and belonging.

Rhythm and Song Camp breaks into rap

Laura Moolenbeek rehearses a rap written by the boys cabin at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp. By the end of the week, campers were ready to perform the rap they prepared at the banquet before the whole camp. It was amazing to see kids coming out of their shells, and finding common ground in music. (Photo by Karen Cornies)

According to camp counsellor Laura Moolenbeek, Silver Lake Mennonite Camp’s first Rhythm and Song Camp was an incredible week for campers and staff. Seven- to 16-year-olds came with a huge range of musical experience. They brought a wide range of perspectives to each session. The boys cabin chose to write and perform a rap for their counsellors. 

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