|Emely Carrillo of Gretna participates in an archery class, one of many activities offered during the summer session at Centenary Camp. 2014 photo by Susan Green.|
This story was updated Jan. 22, 2016, to correct the date.
February’s weather may not be conducive for camping out, but it’s a great time for creating more awareness and increasing excitement about the Florida Conference’s camping and retreat programs.
Set for Feb. 28, the fourth annual Camping Sunday campaign is a time when churches often earmark offerings for scholarships to send children and teenagers to summer camp, especially those who otherwise could not afford to go.
The day, however, is about more than just fundraising. Churches will receive informational materials about Florida Conference camping and retreats programs in late January to distribute to their congregations at a time they choose.
“Camping Sunday is intended to lift up camping and tell how lives can be changed at camp,” said Mike Standifer, director of Camps and Retreat Ministries for the Florida Conference.
“We don’t want to say this is the only Sunday we collect for camping programs. Some churches may opt to highlight the materials on a different Sunday.”
In fact, some churches prefer to raise money and awareness through events and not just offerings.
First UMC, Lakeland, is gearing up for its annual Carol Marsh Kids-to-Camp 5K Run, which honors retired deacon and Christian educator Carol Marsh. The money raised from the 5K is used primarily for summer camp scholarships for the 80 to 100 kids that First UMC sends to camp each year.
“We raise tens of thousands of dollars so that every child can go to camp,” said Rev. David McEntire, who is the Florida Conference Board of Camps and Retreat Ministries chairperson and has volunteered at youth camps since 1977. “Our folks wanted to have an ongoing way of supporting the things Carol loved.”
|Summer camp is an ideal opportunity for youth fellowship and faith-building, say leaders of the Florida Conference Camps & Retreat Ministries. Photo from Warren Willis Camp.|
The 5K run not only attracts dozens of First UMC members but also people who are not in the church. The event creates community awareness of the importance of summer camps in a young person’s life.
“It helps people understand the value of camp and that it can be a life-changer,” McEntire said.
“We know that camp is a significant way for young people to connect with God and understand God’s love. At camp, youth also come to understand that they can make a difference in the world.”
McEntire has seen dozens of kids go into full-time ministries because of a call they felt at camp. Even more, he added, have given their lives to Christ at camp.
“The kids are such a rich environment for God’s love; many of them discern a call to serve Christ while at camp,” McEntire said. “The other thing is that camp is just a blast. If you are going to spend a week in the summer doing something different, it’s hard to beat camp.”
Offerings earmarked for camping programs make a difference, even for children whose parents are not sure they can afford to send their children to camp. For prospective first-time campers especially, the cost can be a huge hurdle for parents.
“When I’m talking to a first-time camper’s parent and I share that camp will be $400, their eyes get real big,” said Scott McQueen, director of youth ministry at Riviera UMC, St. Petersburg. “When you talk through it and can offer assistance, they are more likely to respond positively.”
He added that after kids have been to camp once, it’s easier for parents to budget and plan for the following years.
Riviera UMC generally sends 60 to 70 students to summer camp, although only about 40 to 50 are involved regularly in the youth programs. The scholarships, McQueen said, allow the church to extend its reach to new families.
“The camp program has allowed us to reach out to families who are not as involved in church,” explained McQueen. “Summer camp is an effective hook for kids that are not a part of our regular youth ministry.”
With more than 4,000 young people attending a Florida Conference summer camp annually, scholarships are vitally important to many who could not afford to go.
“Just imagine if every child who wanted to go to camp could go and was not limited by money,” Standifer said. “Camping Sunday makes local congregations understand the power that camps have in the lives of children, youth and adults. Camp is a place set apart, where they can go and be close to God.”
The Florida Conference operates camps and retreats near Tallahassee, Leesburg and LaBelle. Some camps already are taking 2016 summer camp registrations. Click here to find information about programs at different locations.
– Mary Ann DeSantis is a freelance writer based in Lady Lake.