Branching Out

Kanakuk Kamps has remained true to its roots while expanding beyond its base of Ozark operations.


Kanakuk Kamps

Branson, Mo.

Ages: 7-18

Cost: Prices vary by camp

It's tough to say which is busier for Kanakuk Kamps, summers or winters. Summer sees thousands of campers traveling to the shores of Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., for Kanakuk's brand of Christian athletic fun.

Road Warriors

From October through February Kanakuk directors hit the road for all points east and west in the continental United States to visit with their campers, recruit the next summer's staff and introduce Kanakuk to potential new campers.

Beginning in early August Kanakuk sends out packets to its contacts in cities and campuses with letters, postcards, posters and videos. The contacts set up the location and time and Kanakuk posts the information on its website (

Past campers are encouraged with gift incentives to bring friends who have never been to camp. The road show, which Kanakuk calls its Winter Trail, is a tried and true program consisting of 30 directors, five vans loaded down with staff and camper applications, AV equipment, and an interactive video.

Families and former staff will host and set the stage for the annual road show in their prospective cities by securing a venue, putting up posters in their communities, mailing invitations and making personal phone invitations.

The show has two components that operate simultaneously. Camp staff is typically recruited on campuses and universities where a Kanakuk counselor, often in conjunction with the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) or similar organizations, acts as a point person to get the word out.

Kanakuk will need to hire about 2,500 college counselors to ensure that campers' needs are met with the best-qualified staff possible.

"At some of our bigger, traditional schools, like Baylor and Texas A&M, we'll interview approximately 150 students, while at other campuses we'll interview only 10 or 20 students. We travel everywhere from North Carolina and Virginia to California," says Doug Goodwin, Kanakuk's executive director of administration.

The road show that aims for new counselors verses the show for the campers are very similar, though each has different goals in mind.

The goal for the camper show is to continue to build on the solid relationships the directors have developed with campers over the years.

"We'll do lots of family shows where we'll show up in a place like Dallas. All the Dallas kids will be there and we'll have a big Kanakuk party," says Goodwin. "We visit with our campers, meet their friends, answer any questions, tell them a little bit about Kamp and show the highlight video of the previous summer.

It doesn't take long… about 45 minutes to an hour at the max," says Goodwin.

Rubber Meets the Road

Mixing boys and girls is one thing, but finding counselors who mix with campers is another challenge that Kanakuk has successfully met.

With about a 50-60 percent return rate among its counselors, Kanakuk has a solid veteran staff. What that return rate means, however, is that of the 2,500 counselors hired, there are fewer positions available for talented newcomers found by Kanakuk on college campuses across the nation.

"We're a Christian sports camp so when we arrive at a college we're looking for someone who has a relationship with Christ and is growing in that relationship. We certainly don't expect someone to be perfect, but it's important for us to know where they are spiritually," says Goodwin. "They also have to like kids and have some athletic ability."

Goodwin adds that most counselors have participated in athletics at least in high school. In order to determine their ability levels Kanakuk has developed a scale where potential counselors rate themselves.

The scale is based on where the candidates participated in athletics -- Division I, Division II, large high school or small private school.

"If you've run track at the University of Iowa you'd be classified a 10, or 9 for a Division II school and so on," says Goodwin. "Then we can compare the skills of the athletes and fit them to their positions. We go over their applications with the directors and evaluate the different areas on the application -- sports, skills, spiritually, what terms they can work and so on. We rate them from 10-6 and start out by hiring all of our 10s and 9s and then look at our 8s."

Once hired, most new counselors are required to go to Staff Training Week, about 10-12 days before the campers arrive for the summer. At the training, counselors are certified for the activities they'll be leading and other required certifications.

This is where hitting the road pays big dividends and why Kanakuk Kamps travel cross-country to find the cream of the crop where their counselors are concerned.

"Another thing that we've learned is that in order to get the quality of people we want, we have to go to a lot of different cities. We can't just concentrate on Texas and Oklahoma," says Goodwin.

With Kanakuk on the road this past winter, the camp is on a roll for this coming summer.

Day by Day

The popularity of the camps has brought with it a need to expand. What began as a simple camp in 1932 has blossomed into ten camps that are all a variation of the original theme.

Building actually began on manmade Taneycomo Lake (just down the road from Table Rock) in 1906. But it was "Uncle Bill” Lantz, who provided the foundation in 1932 and envisioned a Christian camp that would provide city dwellers an experience in the country.

The camp is now under the leadership of Joe and Debbie-Jo White, who continued the legacy of his father, "Spike" and mother, Darnell, in 1971.

Joe White, president, is a nationally known author and speaker, frequent guest on Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family radio program and host of Life on the Edge, a radio teen talk show. He has also spoken at men's Promise Keeper rallies across the nation.

Continuing to build on the vision, Kanakuk Kamps encompasses K-West for 12-14 year olds; K1 for 8-13 year olds; K2 for 13-18 year olds; K-Kountry for 8-11 year olds; K7, an adventure camp for 8-11 year olds; K-Klassic for 7-18 year olds; three non-profit camps for inner-city kids called Kids Across America; and K-Colorado, Kanakuk's latest addition with Colorado-style adventure, near Durango.

"When the waiting lists get long enough, when we have the ability to recruit more staff and when it's financially possible, we look into building a new camp," says Goodwin. "We experimented with K-Colorado on a small scale. We used another camp's facilities, took 10 guys and 10 girls for a couple of terms, and it became so popular that we decided to build K-Kolorado."

An equally important consideration for expansion is the feedback Kanakuk receives from campers, parents and staff. For example, that feedback led to K-Klassic, which addressed the fact that many parents were sending their kids to four different camps with four different closing ceremonies, hence the need to develop a camp for children ages 7-18.

Camp length has also been addressed over the years as camper and staff schedules have changed to include all the extracurricular activities that are now on everyone's plates.

Prior to the 1970s Kanakuk ran eight-week sessions. Now the longest sessions are four weeks, with those being the last to fill in favor of the one-week camps, which Goodwin says fill up quickly.

Kanakuk gets a lot of its feedback from extensive evaluations that are circulated among campers, directors and counselors. For campers, these written evaluations gauge such things as food, the overall program, the clinic and other camp components with a four-tiered selection of responses -- excellent, good, fair and poor. The evaluations ask why they responded that way and what they would change or add to the camp.

Counselors fill out evaluations on their leadership team, co-counselors and camp experience. Directors are also required to do an evaluation on their respective camps.

The combination of evaluations and the sheer years of experience Kanakuk has, brings an insightful perspective of where kids are coming from at various ages and what they want from camp.

"If you're working with middle-school kids, for example, you need to know what they're like, what they're dealing with, what they like and dislike on the whole, and the kind of activities that are exciting for them -- that's a big part of our program," says Goodwin. "So when I'm reviewing a piece of equipment someone wants us to buy, I have the background I need to figure out if a sixth-grader's going to like it or not."

With the kids divided into boys (Kanakuk) and girls (Kanakomo), it's necessary to know when and how often to mix them.

"Younger kids don't care to ever see a girl; middle school kids kind of like to see one every now and then; whereas high schoolers want to see girls every day," says Goodwin. "So high schoolers will do something as a girl and guy camp every night; middle school kids a couple of times a week; elementary school kids might do it once or twice every couple of weeks. Anyone who works with kids needs to know how they're made, how they work and how they operate at that specific age."

Bryan BuchkoComment