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4 min read

Beyond UGM Camp: Local Churches Serve as Bridges from Camp to Home

Throughout Spokane's low-income neighborhoods, churches are partnering with UGM Youth Outreach to reach kids growing up in challenging circumstances, whether in broken homes or environments affected by addiction. By offering them a week at UGM Camp, the churches are forging connections that extend well beyond the campfire songs and s'mores; they’re building bridges to year-round relationships and a network of support.



Liferoads Church in Spokane’s Chief Garry Park neighborhood has been partnering with UGM in this way since 2012. “I’ve been personally involved in 17 weeks of camp,” says Liferoads Next-Gen Director Pam Johnson. Most partner churches “adopt” their nearest elementary school and host one week of camp, but Liferoads has taken on the challenge of doubling that responsibility. By working with both Stevens and Frances Scott Elementary to get as many kids to Camp as possible, Pam says they’ve seen thousands of young lives impacted for good over the past 11 years.

Churches as bridges

While this kind of partnership is fairly straightforward, it involves three key components: 8-10 mission-minded churches in the heart of the city, 8-10 willing schools in select neighborhoods, and UGM’s contribution of the fully equipped UGM Campground and support staff. Generally, the way recruitment works is each church connects with an elementary school in their neighborhood, works with administration to invite students to a week at Camp, and facilitates that week with a team of volunteers and some structured, biblical teaching. 

“All a church really needs to be able to provide is the lessons and the cabin leaders.”

Pam says the structure and simplicity of the program is what makes it possible for her church to stay involved. She says it’s what motivated Mission Church to get involved as well: “Mission Church is right next to Trent Elementary. I said, ‘Guys, you got to do Camp.’ They were super skeptical, saying they didn’t have the resources to pull it off. So, finally, I got them to come up and they saw everything. They saw the fact that you don’t need to hire a cook or a nurse or lifeguards, plus the activities are all there, and the facilities are beautiful—the cabins are even air-conditioned. All a church really needs to be able to provide is the lessons and the cabin leaders. They were totally sold.”


Relying on local churches to lead each camp week is not a cheap way out of doing the hard work ourselves, but rather part of a strategic plan to give the kids more than a week at Camp. Essentially, the churches function as bridges between Camp and the kids' everyday lives.

A bridge to new opportunities

On one side of the bridge is the chance to see life from a new perspective. Many kids from Spokane’s low-income neighborhoods would never get to experience a summer camp if it weren’t for this incredible partnership plus the many donors who sponsor the campers. At UGM Camp, they get to experience not only the wild adventures and new friendships commonly associated with summer camp, but they get to see themselves in light of God’s great design. For many, it’s a first encounter with the saving love of Christ and the knowledge that He created them with a purpose. “It gives them hope,” Pam says, “and it gives them a sense that there’s something more.”


In addition to hearing the gospel, Pam adds that this bridge to new opportunities includes the chance to decompress from electronics and have an experience being present in a new way. “You see this transition where it’s super hard the first day and a half, like even at chapel they’re antsy and they’re all over the place, and then all-of-a-sudden there’s a break in there and you kind of see them go, ‘Oh, I can just relax and just enjoy and not worry about a phone or a device or feel that pressure.’ And then it snowballs and they’re just like ‘I love being here’ and just saying that they don’t ever want to leave. So that’s the other piece—getting them into nature in a way you can’t really in the city. You know, they just don’t get this experience.” 

A bridge to discipleship

On the other side of this proverbial bridge lie endless opportunities for lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging that outlasts a fleeting summer week.


Like all our partner churches, Liferoads works to maintain relationship with former campers year-round, inviting them to afterschool programs such as UGM’s Young Club and their own Sunday schools and youth groups. “It’s been cool to build relationships with people that are actually in our neighborhood. We have a couple of kids that live right across the street from the church, and they’re running around, and they’ll see a bunch of our kids playing outside on Sunday morning, and they’ll come over and start playing with them. That’s the model we want to see. Ultimately, as a church,” she adds, “we want to see the kids come to know Jesus and have a relationship with Him. But we also just want them to learn how to make good choices and to teach them leadership and life skills.”


“I don’t want to just share Jesus and then leave them;

I want to actually disciple them.”


Pam says even though her two schools’ Camp registrations get waitlisted every summer, she prioritizes those who’ve come to Camp before. And there’s a reason for that: “I always tell the kids if you came to camp with us, you can come again. I will try to get you in as much as possible. If you move, send me your address, and I’ll still try to get you in. Because we want to build that long relationship with them. I don’t want to just share Jesus and then leave them; I want to actually disciple them.”



A benefit for the church

“I talk about UGM all the time with any pastor that comes around,” Pam says, “especially about UGM Camp. It’s been so good for us at Liferoads, in so many ways. I tell them, ‘Once you see what UGM does, you’re going to love it. And once you come to Camp, you’re going to want to do it again and again and again.’”


She says Camp isn’t just life-changing for the kids in their neighborhood, it’s life-changing for the leaders. “I selfishly do Camp every summer because it changes my heart, it’s this microcosm of what the church community should look like in real life.”


An invitation to be the bridge

Pam says she’s excited by the opportunities that are available right now in Spokane. “The doors are wide open at the schools, and they need people—they want people, and they want churches to come in, and they want to be a part of what’s going on because they see that it makes a difference.”

“The harvest is here.”


Speaking of the school connection, Pam says, “I don’t know how long the door is going to be open. They’re welcoming us right now, so let’s just go and let’s just love people and just see what we can do. The harvest is here.”

UGM is actively seeking additional churches to join hands with Youth Outreach and their local school to expand this impactful bridge or, as Pam says, to reap the harvest. If your church is interested, please connect with Director of Youth Outreach Ryan Brown at



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