A Different-Kind-of-Summer Camp

September 21, 2020

By: Aimee Yeager

There is nothing quite like the experience of summer camp. It is a hallmark moment for most young people’s faith development. This year, however, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, camp looked a little different. Camps across the nation had to make rapid decisions about how they would provide a summer camp experience with social distance and pandemic-level safety protocols. It might seem impossible; but with determination, ingenuity, and God, camp staffs met the challenge and showed up for our young people.
Here are some of the stories of Summer 2020 from the United Methodist camps here in Western North Carolina.

Camp GuilRock

Written by Eric Hearn, Camp Director at Camp GuilRock, a United Methodist Summer Camp and Retreat Center located in Reidsville, North Carolina.
This past summer was like nothing else that Camp GuilRock has ever faced. Initially unsure if camp was even possible, we knew in our hearts how important this experience and this place is to our campers and our community. Prior to opening, we worked hard to ensure safety for our campers and our staff by putting in place all the proper COVID-19 protocols and safety measures. With new practices in place and reduced size, we opened our gates for a summer of fun. 
Despite a 3-week delay, and reduced number of campers and staff, the joy of camp and Christian community was present from the first day. Allowing campers a chance to be around other kids in a safe and loving environment was exactly what the students at Camp GuilRock needed. While picking up their child during the first week one parent said, "We were so excited to have Camp GuilRock open this summer! Our kids needed to see their friends and have a chance to play."
While things may have looked a little different (and we used our sinks and soap more than ever before!), we still had camp. We swam in the pool, shot archery, and played games together. The greatest joy was the chance to watch our property and program serve as a source of relief for the people in our community, and for our campers to have the opportunity to be somewhat normal in a time where everything was different. Even when the world felt unsteady, Camp GuilRock became a place where students could be reminded of the ever-steady presence of God.

Camp Tekoa

Written by John Isley, Executive Director of Camp Tekoa, a United Methodist Summer Camp and Retreat Center in Hendersonville, NC. 

Camp Tekoa has had a long tradition of ministry over these past 70 years.  This summer, due to the pandemic, our program changed dramatically.  We did not offer traditional summer camp and adventure camp experiences.  However, we still offered two weeks of family camps.  It was wonderful to see families come to an outdoor environment and spend time together!  Fathers and sons enjoyed hiking together.  Families had three generations perform in skits at the talent show.  And many of our traditions continued.  Swamp canoes were played. Songs were sung.  S'mores were made.  And we held four candlelight services around the lake. None of this would have been possible without our amazing summer staff who took on this new version of camp and worked hard to keep camp clean and safe. 
One of our highlights was connecting with several foster families through the James and Jerrilyn Scholarship Fund.  These families greatly enjoyed their camp experiences.  
“Camp Tekoa was the highlight of an unusual, but great summer,” says the SanGeorge family.  “The time we were given at camp helped us be silly, work together, appreciate our differences and grow together.”
“For our family, Family Camp meant another return trip home to Camp Tekoa, and some much-needed time to rest and recharge our hearts, minds, and souls!” says the Heslin family.  “For our daughter, who is painfully shy and very quiet and soft spoken, Tekoa is a place where she feels comfortable, safe, loved, and encouraged! She can be herself and at camp she just shines and comes out of her shell!”
We learned this summer that Tekoa is needed now more than ever!  Families need the respite of this place.  Sanctuary is important in these stressful times. 
Tekoa has also raised over $115,000 for our Raise Your Candles High Emergency Fund.  We have a long way to go to our goal of $800,000 but the generosity that supporters of Tekoa have shown has been overwhelming!  Thank you to all who make this ministry possible! We are extremely grateful.

Camp Tekoa Foothills

Excerpt taken from an article written by Jordan Mitchell, Mission and Ministry Catalyst at Camp Tekoa Foothills, a United Methodist Summer Camp and Retreat Center located in Casar, North Carolina. Read the full article here.
…This summer has been one of connection and determination. Through offering Day Passes to our community, we were able to connect with people in Cleveland County discovering Tekoa Foothills for the first time. There were families from Marion, Hickory, Charlotte, and even as far as Virginia that made the trek to quaint Casar to explore the uninhibited nature existing on the Foothills property. The biggest lesson I learned is that people truly have a deep desire to interact with nature and form a bond with their families outside the confines of their typical lifestyles. People need one another. People need a relationship with nature.
One of my favorite things about this summer was hearing stories from the residents of Casar who shared memories of playing in the creek, riding horses up and down the main road, helping to build the lake, and roaming the property when it was still known as Camp Loy White. I’ve experienced a sense of camaraderie that has inspired me to learn more about the history of this camp and of Loy White himself. Many of these people had no idea the property was open to the public again, and seeing their faces light up with joy as they reminisced on a place so special to them was humbling and awe-inspiring. Providing them a space to explore camp in a new, transformative light was a gracious reminder of the reasons why we have worked relentlessly to offer respite and retreat to our community. 
Every single one of our offerings this summer was cultivated from a place of creativity and within a desire to understand and meet the needs within this community. We must have faith that even through all the changes and uncertainties, there is still a strong desire for recreation and reconnection. Within this strong desire there also must be a fierce commitment from our advocates to remain devoted to ensuring Tekoa Foothills continues to serve our community and their greatest needs. As we transition into a new season of life, we aim to deepen the bonds built this summer and move forward together with steadfast determination blended beautifully with harmony and love.         

Mount Shepherd Retreat Center

Written by Josh Britton, Executive Director at Mount Shepherd Retreat Center, a United Methodist Summer Camp and Retreat Center located in Asheboro, North Carolina.
Nestled in the Uwharrie Mountains in the town of Asheboro, Mount Shepherd Retreat Center provides a Christ-centered place of welcome and beauty for growth, learning, and fun. Each summer kids and teens come to Asheboro to enjoy the mountains, forest, and lake at Mt. Shepherd – but more importantly, they come to meet God in nature and away from the stresses of their everyday lives. This summer, we missed the magic of traditional overnight camp--the camaraderie that happens in a cabin or the holiness of worship under the stars. We only hosted day camps this year, and we did them without singing, sports, or high fives. But God still moved!
We were caught off-guard when during drop-off this morning a mom reported that we had made her twin boys cry last night. She said they were sobbing because today would be their last day of camp. And it wasn't the activities or independence they would miss. They were upset at the thought of missing relationships they had built this week. They made friends. They love their counselors. She said if they weren't going to the beach next week, they'd be back. 
One camper has returned every week. Each week we got a visible reminder of the growth kids experience. The first week he refused to get on the tower. The second week he made it just a few flights up the observation tower. Another week he made it two flights higher, just over the tree line. Last week, he made it to the top, with a counselor walking beside him the whole way! 

Despite no campfires or worship songs, our staff have still been facilitating spiritual growth. For kids who don't come from a religious background, they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time. For kids who belong to a church, they're just as thirsty for spiritual engagement as they are for human interaction. Our staff have rocked it in leading devotions this summer. Each afternoon I'm amazed that the same kids I just saw running and screaming are sitting in the shade listening to stories and asking questions. Deep questions. They want to learn, they want to grow, they want to know God. 
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, these camps provided more than fun and games for the students of Western North Carolina. There is something deeply significant and theological about the ministry of Christian camps – they help to create faith-shaping memories, the kind of memories that keep us tethered to God, even when everything else crumbles. And, in these uncertain days, we can all use more memories like that.
As Summer comes to an end, the UMC Camps in Western North Carolina ramp up for Fall. All four camps are hosting distance learning opportunities for the students in their communities who need a safe place to learn while their parents go to work. In addition, all four facilities are open and ready to host your church day programs, family campout, or your spiritual renewal getaway. Visit each camp’s individual website to learn more about scheduling your retreat time this Fall.
Finally, as with so many non-profit organizations, our camps felt the economic impact of COVID-19. With reduced enrollment in summer camps, limited program offerings, and helping financially strapped families, this different-kind-of-summer took its toll on camp budgets. You can help.
To financially support the ministries of our Western North Carolina camps, please visit:
Camp GuilRock - https://www.campguilrock.org/support.html
Camp Tekoa - https://www.camptekoa.org/giving
Camp Tekoa Foothills - https://tekoafoothills.org/giving
Mount Shepherd Retreat Center - https://www.mtshepherd.org/index.php