Life at UGM Camp: non-stop kids, non-stop beauty, just plain non-stop

Posted by Union Gospel Mission May 6, 2014 3:16:00 PM

Ken and Jenny Weddle and their three boys live at UGM Camp (formerly Tshimakain Creek Camp) - 125 acres bordering the Spokane River near Ford, Washington - year round. Ken has been the camp administrator for 12 years. Jenny volunteers in a wide variety of roles - from ropes course facilitator to camp mom. This summer, in lieu of Denny Roach's retirement, Jenny will be the interim camp director. Here, Ken and Jenny share all about about their exhilarating, exhausting, extraordinary lives.

Living out their calling

Little_Weddle_Boys2_smFirst a word from Ken and Jenny's boss, UGM Youth Outreach Director Dennis Roach: 

12 years ago I met this dynamic duo in a small, cramped apartment in the city with three young boys who would not sit still as we visited. Fast forward 12 years. Ken and Jenny are living in a beautiful, spacious camp with three teenage boys who still have trouble sitting still! While much has changed in their lives since that time, what has remained is their vision and commitment to see the lives of young people change because of the love and power of Jesus Christ.

Ken and Jenny and their boys have thrived in this environment and been inspired to move deeper into their passions and desires. They are living out their calling - and who can ask for anything more?

A heart for at-risk kids

Ken and Jenny Weddle

What are the highlights of living at camp year round? The challenges? 

Ken: Living at camp these past 12 years has been a blessing to our family. It has been a wonderful place for our family to grow and develop, especially our three boys. It has provided opportunities for all of us to interact not only with local people, but with people from all over the world who come to camp for various reasons. One particular challenge to living at camp is not having a private life: it is an open book, with the phone and doorbell ringing at all hours. Living at camp means that we struggle with always seeing the work that needs to be accomplished – never being fully separated from it, even on the weekends. All in all, it has been important to strive for some reasonable balance between work life and private life. We have found that some seasons are easier than others and have learned to appreciate each season for the unique joys and challenges.

What drew you to this job?  

Ken: A couple of things, in addition to the Lord’s apparent leading. I graduated from EWU with a recreation management degree and needed a summer practicum position. In addition, Jenny had a pretty big background in camping ministry and had expressed a real desire for our family to be involved as she had seen other camp families. Through plenty of dialogue, we discovered there was a deep desire to find a camp where we could be utilized and grow as a family. We specifically wanted to work at a camp for at-risk youth and one that offered camps at a low cost or for free. That was before we knew such a camp existed at Union Gospel Mission.  Through God’s orchestration, we met with Dennis Roach, and the rest is history. 

 "Ken and I jokingly said if we ever won the lottery, we would buy some remote property and start a free camp for inner-city kids." - Jenny

Jenny: I worked at a Christian camp for a few summers after high school and was working there the summer Ken and I got engaged. Camp just gets into your blood, and for me, it became obvious that camp was an amazing way to minister to people, plus an unbelievable environment in which to raise a family. Before we got married, Ken and I jokingly said if we ever won the lottery, we would buy some remote property and start a free camp for inner-city kids. Fast forward about 5 years, and God put us in the middle of our dream. And we didn’t even have to play the lottery to make it happen!

The merging of home life and work life


Give us a quick job description.   

Young Weddle Boys

Jenny: I serve at camp in a variety of ways. I answer the phone, schedule rental groups, handle contracts, billing, camp tours, and most all aspects of rental groups. I’m a gopher when Ken needs errands run, I help out with volunteer groups, and fill in the nooks and crannies where Ken needs extra hands. Ken’s official role is Camp Administrator, but his job description would be about 3 pages long, covering everything from budgeting, volunteer management, and logistical planning to manual labor jobs like plowing snow, making supply runs and everyday building maintenance. There is always something to be done.

"A characteristic summer day doesn’t mean working an eight hour day and then checking out." - Ken

What does a typical day look like? (Summer? Winter?)

Ken: It can be a little challenging to describe a typical day, so much depends upon the season of the year; each being so very different. Camp work requires a big dose of flexibility and yet being focused on the goals that lay ahead. A characteristic summer day doesn’t mean working an eight hour day and then checking out; it is usually one of complete involvement from staff meetings at 7:30 a.m. to supporting the summer camp churches and staff functions until as late as 10:00 p.m.  We also take turns taking care of weekend camp rentals. It can be very exhausting and rewarding. In the winter, it quiets down with fewer rentals and a focus on indoor facility maintenance and planning, with a heavy bout of snow removal throughout the grounds. 

Jenny: My days vary depending on the season as well. In the summer, I am on the phone a lot, talking with anxious parents, answering questions, running messages and such. I admit I occasionally get very tired of hearing the phone ring! Some summers I work on the challenge course; this year I will be filling in as Interim Camp Director, so I anticipate a very busy summer with very long hours. During the rest of the year, my focus is primarily on guest rental groups and coordinating their dates, so a typical day will include drafting emails, sending contracts, maybe cooking lunch for volunteers, organizing paperwork and juggling the needs of our busy family.

The Wild Life

What is something people may never guess is a part of your normal workday? 

Ken: We’ve had to work with plenty of stray and abandoned animals. We had a real challenge coordinating with the county sheriff to deal with a pack of wild dogs. One year I had to send 14 abandoned dogs (captured over the course of a year) to an animal shelter. Another time I had to deal with a full grown buffalo that made camp his new home. There has also been plenty of cattle leaving the open range of the Spokane Indian Reservation and making havoc on our camp lawns and fences. 

Jenny: I’m what I refer to as the second half of a two-for-one deal. I’m a volunteer, so every day I work at camp is a volunteer day for me!

"My big message is that kids need our time, not just our money." - Jenny   <Tweet this.

If you had a soapbox, what’s the one message you’d like to deliver about youth today? 

Jenny: Growing up is getting harder and harder for our youth every year, with ever increasing cultural and societal pressure. My big message is that kids need our time, not just our money. Nothing can replace quality time and attention from parents, grandparents, mentors and caring adults. Kids need to feel that they are seen and valued, that they are capable of great things. They need boundaries and expectations and discipline. They need to be taught how to work hard. They need to be taught that Jesus loves them, and that they can depend on God always being there for them. Every child has promise and potential, but they need the support and love of adults to reach that potential.

Reflecting on joy

What do you hope children take with them when they leave UGM Camp? 

Ken: A glimpse of hope in Christ. The beginning of newfound safe relationships and bonds. An unforgettable camp experience that is full of joy and excitement when reflected upon. 

Jenny: I hope kids leave knowing that there are people out there who genuinely care for them. I hope they have started on a lifelong journey with God, and that the seeds of hope for a more joyful future have been planted!

What parts of your personality come in handy in your job? 

Jenny: Hospitality comes very naturally to me, so I enjoy cooking big scratch lunches for volunteers. We’ve literally hosted people from all over the world at our kitchen table and made such wonderful friends. As a couple, we tend to be open-armed about welcoming people into our family, so the people aspect of camp life has come easily. Although I’m an introvert, I like meeting new people, so leading camp tours and doing the phone work is a good fit. Ken won’t say it himself, but he’s got a great reservoir of patience. He’s a servant leader, and he flexes beautifully with the constantly changing landscape of camp needs. We’ve spent 12 of our 18 years of marriage at camp, and our personalities mesh very well, allowing us to work together all the time without getting grouchy with each other. That has been absolutely key for both of us.

 "THAT is what camp is about: powerful, restorative moments that can break the cycle of mistrust, anger, and hopelessness. And that is why we are hooked on camp." - Jenny  <Tweet this.

What’s your favorite way to spend your time off? 

Ken: One of the biggest ways for our family to take time off is to take a big vacation every year.  It’s an incredible time for our family to enjoy being with each other and to explore new places.  We have gone to places like Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Redwoods and the list goes on and on.

Jenny: The demands of summer camp mean that we don’t get to take typical summer vacations, but we’ve always been committed to making sure that our three boys (Kody,16, Jonah,15 and Levi,13) don’t feel neglected by our busy schedule; so spring break is usually our time to get away. We’re big on exposing the kids to the beauty of God’s creation, and on learning, so we’ve crisscrossed the western United States, camping in our travel trailer, and getting really quality family time. We recently returned from a week on the Olympic Peninsula beachcombing, hiking the rain forest, and storing up some relaxation for the upcoming busy season.

Weddle Family on vacation


A vital ministry

Tell us about one of your most moving experiences at UGM Camp. 

Jenny: How do we narrow this down to just one out of a thousand? Several years ago I was leading a local group of high school students on the challenge course. There were around 12 boys, and just one girl. The girl had experienced significant, traumatic abuse at the hands of men and was so scared of men that she wouldn’t let any of the boys in the group touch her while playing games and doing teambuilding. The boys came to an understanding that they needed to treat this young lady with the utmost care and respect. She responded to that care, and literally within three hours of starting our teambuilding session, she went from not even letting them touch her hand, to falling backwards into their arms at the trust fall, an act of complete trust. It was so incredibly powerful, and it still makes me want to cry. THAT is what camp is about: powerful, restorative moments that can break the cycle of mistrust, anger, and hopelessness. And that is why we are hooked on camp.

Camp girls doing trust game

"Union Gospel Mission Camp is a special place." - Ken

group of young camp boys

What is one key word you’d use to describe UGM Camp? 

Ken: Vital.

Any last thoughts? 

Ken: Union Gospel Mission Camp is a special place. The focus and utility of the camp is such that I believe it is honoring of the Lord and His will of reaching out, sharing His word and interacting with all people young and old. Additionally, people who volunteer their time and others that give financially create an atmosphere of partnering and a sense of shared ownership in the areas of rescue, recovery and restoration. 

Tshimakain Creek

Jenny: Camp is indeed a special place. Anyone who has had a positive camp experience knows how powerful it can be. We so appreciate the support of all the donors and volunteers who make that experience happen for hundreds of kids each summer. You are the hands of God making a difference in the lives of hurting kids. Thank you to all of you who help to make this critical ministry happen!

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Topics: underprivileged kids, UGM Camp


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