Take Camp On The Road

By Nancy Ferguson

It is a Sunday afternoon in July. Members of the church await the arrival of the day-camp team. Together, they will prepare the church space for the campers who will arrive Monday morning.

Long before this afternoon, the camp and the congregational members worked together to recruit campers, train leaders, and develop a meaningful program.

By the end of the week, when parents attend a closing program, the 20 day campers will have cooked s’mores, made bird feeders, learned Bible stories, sung “Baby Shark” more times than they can count, played games, and made friends.

This traveling program offers to a church-related camp an opportunity to partner with congregations to bring a day-camp experience to local children. Both the camp and the congregation make a contribution to the partnership and share a sense of success at the end of the week.

With this partnership, the camp provides staff members, all program materials and risk-management plans; the church provides an outdoor location with access to shelter, bathrooms, water and a telephone. The congregation agrees to designate a coordinator and/or planning committee to work with camp staff in the months prior to day camp. Designated people within the congregation also agree to be present during camp to support the staff. The church provides hospitality for staff by making lunch and arranging housing if the church is more than 60 miles from camp.

Marketing And Sponsorship
This day-camp program is among many offered by the camp, and is therefore subject to the same operation guidelines defining any other camp program.

The planning for day camp begins in the fall with an invitation for churches to participate the following summer. A camp representative arranges to meet with the church’s day-camp committee. At that meeting, the representative describes the program and the responsibilities of the congregation. Congregations can provide input about the ages the day camp will serve based on their demographics, and decide whether they want to contribute a portion of the camper fee.

Based on that information, the camp develops marketing brochures, public-relations strategies, flyers, etc.. for the congregations to use to recruit campers. Registration, however, is handled by the camp registrar who responds directly to the campers, but keeps congregations aware who has registered. The fees are paid into the camp account.

During the spring months, in addition to registration, the camp develops the program elements, hires and trains a day-camp director and counselors, updates the risk-management plan, and purchases supplies. The day-camp director arranges for transportation, keeps track of paperwork, and stays in contact with the congregational coordinator.

The program provides a unique opportunity for camps to interpret the camp experience to churches. For many in congregations, the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions day camp is vacation Bible school. Churches often misunderstand the intent of day camp and its difference from vacation Bible school. Since one of the goals of traveling day camp is to offer an experience to campers at a church setting, it is important to distinguish these two programs.

At Camp Hanover, a Presbyterian camp outside Richmond, Va., that has sponsored traveling day camps since 1998, the differences are understood in two ways:

1. The focus of the program is on community building among the campers and enjoyment of God’s creation.

2. Although each day’s activities are based on a Bible story, the emphasis is not on facts, but shared experiences.

At Hanover, the total enrollment is limited to 32 campers who are then divided into four groups with one counselor. Part of the day is spent in small-group activities, and part is spent doing things together as a whole camp. The day begins and ends with a circle time that includes the daily Bible story, singing, announcements and prayer. A cookout is included in each week’s schedule that introduces campers to building fires, preparing a simple meal, and cleaning up afterwards.

The congregational planning committee can decide whether to provide beverages for lunch and/or morning snacks, whether the day campers will go on a field trip during the week, and when to hold a program for parents. Camp sets the schedule for each day, including activities.

A parents’ program on Thursday evening or Friday afternoon offers an opportunity to share the songs and stories campers have learned, and to provide information about the sponsoring camp. This is a chance to invite parents and campers to visit the camp and to consider attending. For some parents, it may be the first time they learn the camp exists!

The camp recruits and trains staff according to its personnel practices and policies. Staff members work under the supervision of the residential camp director or his/her representative.

Congregations agree to comply with the risk-management plan of the camp, and both share in the liability risk. Congregational leaders undergo a background check, but do not have any programmatic contact or responsibilities for campers.

Several models for staffing can be used for traveling day camp. The camp can hire a director just for day camp, who coordinates the pre-camp arrangements and then gives oversight to the onsite director and counselors who go to the churches each week. This person works year-round and is accountable to the camp director. In another model, the summer-program director coordinates all the pre-camp arrangements with a congregation, and hires a day-camp director who goes with counselors each week and directs the program.

Counselors can be part of the residential staff, splitting the summer between day camp and residential camp, and live at camp. Or counselors can be recruited just for day camp and not have any interaction with the residential staff. One of the challenges of traveling day camp is that enrollment for day camps can vary from week to week, requiring different numbers of counselors and leaving some without a job.

The outcomes and benefits of this program are abundant. First, the traveling day camp results in stronger relationships between the camp and churches, leading to more involvement of the congregations in the camp’s program opportunities and possibly even a desire to support the camp financially.

The day-camp program offers children who might never go to residential camp an opportunity to experience relationships with other children in the program. Finally, taking camp on the road can boost camp enrollment by building trust in the camp and its ministry with campers and parents.

Nancy Ferguson has retired recently after directing the Traveling Day Camp program at Camp Hanover for 10 years. The author of eight books for camp leaders, Ferguson was also the editor of the New Earth camp curriculum and the management consultant for RAC of ACA. She is available to talk to camps interested in starting a traveling day-camp program. Visit her Web site at www.BlueTreeRecources.org.