UGM’s Youth Outreach Director Ryan Brown got choked up when we asked him about his plans for this year’s series of week-long Summer Camps.
“There’s going to be a lot of unpacking,” he said. And by “unpacking”, he means the sharing of emotional burdens. “Likely, this will be the first time kids will be able to sit down and talk. Kids have been isolated. We’ve all been isolated. And these kids have never experienced anything like this before. This generation hasn’t experienced a national tragedy like 9/11, and in one way, COVID’s been even harder. Not as shocking or tragic as 9/11, but all-consuming. It’s affected every aspect of their lives, every day.”
Ryan’s heart for underprivileged kids is easy to see. He has already begun praying for and cultivating a team of Summer Staff and interns who will work together to minister to the very unique needs of children in 2021.
“If nobody talks to them about it, this stuff could settle in their hearts forever. Even though we’re mostly past it, there could be some trauma issues—let alone trauma from anything they’re experiencing at home, normally.”
Ryan isn’t just talking about the general isolation we’ve all experienced. He told us how dramatically different the past year has been for UGM’s Youth Outreach. “Churches that we partner with typically have contact with kids in these low-income neighborhoods throughout the school year. They do mentoring in the elementary schools year round. Well, guess what, they haven’t been able to do that at all. So, a lot of these kids have had no contact with churches for over a year. So, it’s going to be very impactful for them to have those relationships reestablished—and that’s our goal at Camp: to establish that relationship between local leaders and these kids.”
The pandemic has made a lot of things harder, but Ryan is insistent that, at UGM Camp, the results are going to be profoundly good in the end. “The unique thing about this year is that there’s automatically a shared experience, which is a huge bonding tool if you want kids to open up. Sometimes it’s hard, pairing the idea of a churched kid who’s now a Bible college student who’s had no experience with trauma or drugs, with these kids who’ve seen it all. When you’re trying to minister to kids with their issues, but you don’t have any, they can just shut the doors and say, ‘You don’t understand.’ But this year it’s, ‘Hey, this thing has happened to all of us.’ It’s a shared experience and an amazing coaching tool. I think some of our staff will find some healing in it too.”
So, what will UGM Camp 2021 look like? Ryan laid it out for us.
As in years past, eight of our local church partners will each facilitate one week-long camp. They create the theme, plan the games, and even bring their own staff to support our team. Ryan said, “2021 Camp will look pretty much like a normal summer. Every Monday the kids will show up to registration at the church or a local park. That’s where we’ll have a nurse doing rapid testing. We’ll sometimes have a festival or a BBQ there too, depending on what the church wants to do. Then we will all hop on a bus and go up to the Camp property. There’s usually a welcome chapel event and that’s when our staff gets to meet the church staff, and the kids will have met their cabin leaders by then. Then it’s a quick tour, fun activities, an evening chapel service and some sort of crazy late-night game. Then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday will look very similar, with canoeing, archery, river floating, fishing, sport court, bikes, trails, crafts… etc. And Friday it will be all about goodbyes and tears and signing shirts and gearing up for a good rest.”
Sounds like a normal summer camp to us! But of course, Ryan and his team are aware that COVID-19 restrictions are liable to change. And in case they do, the team has developed a contingency plan. “If we go back a phase (the camp property is in Stevens County, so regressing a phase is unlikely) we would plan to do everything but stay the night. We would just bus kids up every day and call it ‘Sleep-at-Home Camps.’
“Kids will be at camp, regardless,” Ryan confirmed. “We’re going to have all of our chapels and all our meals outside, unless it’s raining. So, we’re going to pretty much be outside all the time unless we’re sleeping. Everyone will be wearing masks and will have been tested [rapid COVID-19 test] at registration.
“We’re going to create a very, very safe environment.”
In addition to hiring a camp nurse, UGM is hiring two behavioral specialists to be available at all times to kids who need extra emotional support.
It’s a new day.
“This is going to be quite an impactful camp.” Ryan is full of hope. “I’m telling my staff about the theme of ‘it’s a new day’ and encouraging them to spread this message of hope so that, when the kids go home, they understand that this won’t be their future forever—with COVID, plus whatever they’re going through at home—this isn’t going to be their story forever. Things change. There is hope.”
Ryan and his team are asking for specific prayers. “Filling our summer positions, for both Camp and the Impact Center; obviously, prayers for the kids as they enter back into relationships; for our staff and our new Camp Administrator as they step into a new summer.
“Be praying for the children as they come out of this very hard normal into something new, that they would be met with grace by their leaders and that they’d come with an open heart.”
Will you join us by praying, sharing our job postings, or sponsoring a camper? Lives are going to be changed through the gift of a summer camp experience. Kids will get connected to churches, and families will hear the gospel (some for the first time) because one of their children found hope at UGM Camp.