Posts Tagged With: summer camp

that’s a wrap folks

1148909_645041282180658_88436032_nCamp wrapped up last night and now reentry into the world beyond camp begins once again. Last night was one of those late nights as the staff extended the kiss and cry and lingered, not wanting to turn the page on this thing that we had built together over the last few months. It’s a tough thing, leaving a community of intentionality and love and support and reentering a world that is… less focussed on these things. As usual it is the newer staff who hang on the tightest and as this was my 17th such event and my 8th here at Valaqua, I find myself just trying to be patient and gracious and waiting for everyone to go home.

Don’t get me wrong, I will miss this group (they were excellent) but there comes a time when you recognize the transition as one of many and sadly it looses some of the magic it once held.

I teach a session to my staff about the stages of staff progression. It begins with the excited staff with few skills but lots of enthusiasm and progresses all the way to the Natural who is a camp person all the way to the centre of their being. The thing I try to highlight as I teach this is that the camp community is built on the backs of those staff with raw skills and bundles of energy. We need our stage one and two and three staff to carry us old tired guys along.

I like to use the image of a campfire. As anyone who has been through my fire-building session will know, you need three sizes of fuel to start a fire: tinder, kindling, and fuel. The tinder is the small stuff (smaller than your finger) that catches a spark and holds it and you need a lot because it burns very, very fast. Kindling are the small sticks (finger width-ish) that cary the flame on and you need a fair number of those as well. The fuel are the larger logs and once ignited, they hold the flame for a long time, giving the fire longevity.


In my imperfect metaphor of camp as campfire, campers come as tinder, we need lots of them and they burn fast and go home tired. The counseling staff take on the role of kindling, taking the spark of excitement from the campers and making it into something bigger. The leadership of the camp acts as fuel, taking the flame and helping it to burn and give light and heat over a longer period of time.

Staff party is this afternoon so we are not done saying goodbyes yet, but the hope is that these goodbyes in the light of day hold more hope and joy. We will enjoy some time together at the beach and linger in one another’s company one more time before we part ways for the winter. Then it is back to the reentry plan as fall becomes a fast reality.

Thank you to everyone who helped make Valaqua a great place to be this summer. To the staff, countless volunteers, and to the parents who trusted us enough to drop off their children: thank you. I hope you join us again next summer!

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Why I keep coming back

By Valaqua’s own friendly and talented Office Administrator and Activities Guru Allison Goerzen

I have been at Camp Valaqua as a staff member now for 6 summers. I started as a CIT, pumped and ready to make friends with other staff and experience the “other side” of camp. I grew up into a counsellor and now find myself for a second time as leadership in the office. I am beginning to better understand the bigger picture of camp and I have become very passionate about camp’s mission: to provide a safe and caring environment for campers to experience God in community, nature and themselves! Knowing that camp is something that I am so excited about, I have recently begun to give a lot of thought as to why I keep coming back. My conclusion has been this: camp is where my understanding of faith becomes literal.

DSC06018Caring for Creation

In Genesis the story of human kind begins with the understanding that we are created beings who were made to care for God’s Earth. The translation of what this means in practice is widely varied but I find that for me, it is really not complex. We live in a world where an ecological footprint is inevitable and there is not a “fix all” solution to eliminate the damage we cause to the environment. But I think that God cares about our intentions more and so I like to do everything in my knowledge to care for the environment. At camp I learned how easy it can be to conserve water, recycle your plastics, and compost your scraps. I know it isn’t much but living in a community where everyone does their share and is open to talking about improvements is certainly a step in the right direction.

Love and Care for Children

Caring for creation means that we have a responsibility to care for ourselves too. The words to a children’s song come to mind: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…” How much more literal can that be than at camp? We make it our priority every summer to make sure that we provide a safe and loving place for children so that they have an amazing experience. It even goes one step further when I think of the campers who come from places where they do not experience love on a regular basis. I get so excited when I get to see a camper thrive at camp and experience that love from our staff. In a parable in Mathew, Jesus explains: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Mathew 25:40).” As staff it is exciting that camp gives us a place to do exactly that as part of our jobs!

Hearing Each Other’s Stories

As part of loving each camper and creating a connected community among staff members, we invite time in our schedules to share stories. Campers get a chance during evening devotionals and each staff member shares their faith story during orientation. While traveling in South Africa, I began to understand the power of sharing stories. While visiting Pollsmoor Prison we got to be a part of a restorative justice exercise. We listened to inmates tell us how they had apologized to their family members and victims and then listen to how their actions had affected them. It had an incredible impact on the men, and many became very changed people after the experience. When they turned around and told the stories to us, we were likewise changed and they have now become a part of our stories. I like to think that a story holds incredible power to affect change, legitimize emotions, and create restorative, loving friendships. At camp when we share our stories and listen to others’, we have created a space for a loving community rooted in deep friendships.

DSC06076Living in Community 

The care we take in creating deep relationships makes for living in an awesome community. I have loved watching new friendships develop every summer that will last a lifetime. Even though such an intense community can have its challenges, it allows for youth to learn a lot about themselves, how to work and live with others, and come together through the hard stuff. I love that we are so diligent in making time for one-on-ones and mentoring so that we are never left feeling alone with hardships. In the early church, there is an emphasis on community as an interdependent body of believers who share resources, care for one another, and facilitate the coming of God’s kingdom on Earth. I like that camp can be the modern day example of what such a community can look like.

Be Who You AreIron Santa

Camp is a place of silliness, creativity, and ridiculous ideas coming to life. This means that I get the joy of watching first-year staff members discover who they are. For some it is a terrifying leap of faith to step out of their comfort zones and be a little silly. For others, it is a deep sigh of relief as they realize the person they have wanted to be can finally be expressed in an easy-going group of friends.

In terms of personal faith, I believe that a faith that has not undergone doubt and questions is a dead one. How would we overcome questions in the future if we have not first made sought our own answers? With that in mind, I love that camp lets youth ask the big questions, wonder what is right for them, and do so without judgement. I have seen so many staff from Valaqua go out to be leaders in their own circles, and I wonder if that would not be the case if we did not allow for growth and learning here first.

So why do I come back?

In my day-to-day routines at camp, I feel so blessed to be able to live out my faith. It is hard to see my summers at camp as “work” when I feel so strongly about our mission statement. I feel passionately about what I do and know that I am working with people who feel the same. The other staff members are like family to me and I have made connections here that will carry on throughout my life. I love what I do and I know that I have learned things here that impact my faith today. I am excited to see every camper registration that comes across my desk and I can’t help thinking about what their experience will be here with us. Every person who chooses to spend time at camp becomes part of something bigger and I hope they will leave knowing how important it was.

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Work Day


Written and photographed by our fun loving and wonderful Assistant Director Jesse Thiessen

This past weekend here at Valaqua we invited anyone who was willing to come out and help us clean up the camp. We had around 25 camp supporters come out and chop wood, clear bush, clean gutters, and generally made camp ready for the upcominDSC_0038g summer! A group went out to the overnighter spots and set up three tipis, a newer part of camp that adds another level of excitement for campers. Five new cabins were all set up with all the fixings and ready to be used. The teamwork that was experienced over the course of the day was truly inspiring to watch. Loyal supporters who never miss a Valaqua event joined us as well as a young families who are excited to come back in the next few months for summer camp. A fair number of past and future staff members drove out with much energy and enthusiasm wanting to help wherever they were able. As a community we sat around tables at lunch enjoying each-others company with good conversation over a steaming bowl of chili.

This coming summer will be my seventh year at Valaqua, in the new and exciting role of the Assistant Director. It’s really encouraging to see so many supporters of camp come out and dedicate their time. To hear stories of Valaqua from past staff members is something I really look forward too. In the seven years I have worked here, I have grown so much personally and spiritually, seeing camp do the same for others is a real exciting part of my job for the summer. Without so many supporters of Valaqua, camp would not be the same. We thank everyone for putting their time and energy into a truly amazing place.

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a place at the table

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was the last week in August and I sat in a chapel session troubled and barely listening. Some of our campers this summer had been “hard” kids and our counselors were pushed to their limits. This meant that some of the “good kids” were overlooked as our staff struggled to care for more challenging campers. This downgraded and sometimes ruined the experience for the other campers and I was thinking about this, and wondering about balance and worth as I sat.

Our Chaplain was speaking on Luke 14: 12-24 and something in his words reached through my contemplative fog and pulled me in. In this verse Luke tells the story of Jesus at a banquet. Jesus addresses the host saying: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed.”

As we plan the banquet we often take the easy approach inviting those we care about, knowing that our generosity will be repaid somewhere down the line. But the teachings of Jesus never allow his followers to settle for the easy approach. In Luke, Jesus calls us to invite those that would not otherwise have an opportunity to feast. We are challenged to invite the hard kids, the troubled kids, kids that make us work and grumble and work some more that we might share with them a place at the table and show them a glimpse of God’s love.

And so we set the table at camp, knowing it will be hard, knowing we will struggle, and knowing that we will need God’s help to get through.

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creating a happy camper

sleep-away-3For 54 years Camp Valaqua has been welcoming kids to our little corner of creation to grow in all sorts of directions. Kids who spend the week with us grow in self-confidence, faith, and in community with one another. We don’t do it alone though, and here are some tips and suggestions to help your child have a great week at summer camp.

First Time Considerations
The decision about when to send your child to camp for the first time is a challenging one. Some kids are emotionally ready at 7 and others need to wait until they are nine or ten. Take a bit of time and evaluate the emotional maturity of your child prior to registering them for camp. Valaqua has age breakdowns for each of our camps, however, we know that as a parent, you know your child best and you are the best judge of when they are ready and are willing to flex our age guidelines to best accommodate your child.

Prior to Camp
Throughout the year prior to camp, it’s important to encourage your child’s independence as much as possible. Give them opportunity to experience some separations from you, such as sleeping at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, having a sleepover at a friend’s. Discuss what camp will be like when they are there, and what they’ll need to do on their own –changing clothes every day, taking showers, etc. Help them understand that they’ll be sharing sleeping quarters and bathroom facilities with up to 5 other boys or girls, which is a little different than what they are used to at home.

Once you have registered your child for camp, and been accepted for your preferred week(s), go through the checklist of “What to Pack for Camp”. As you’re packing for camp, involve your child so they are familiar with the items you’re placing in their suitcases. The more involved they are, with the process of getting ready for camp, the more likely they will feel at ease when they arrive.

Parents kissing girl.Avoiding Homesickness
Many campers, at one time or another, experience homesickness. It’s a very normal thing, and in most cases, the child gets over it in a very short period of time. But, there is a lot that you (as parents) can do to help your child avoid homesickness, or give them the ability to quickly cope with it if it does happen at camp.

The first thing to consider is how you are going to deal with “childsickness” while they’re away. Sending your child to camp may be the first time you’re without them for a week. But, this is one of many steps that your child will take toward full independence later in life. If you are experiencing some nerves about sending your child to camp, avoid expressing your anxiety to them. It’s okay to say “I’m going to miss you, but I know you’ll have a great time”, but probably not a good idea to let them think you’ll be miserable without them.

If they express their concern to you about being homesick, acknowledge that it’s okay to miss home and family while they’re at camp, but continually encourage them that you know they’ll be fine. One thing that should be avoided where possible is “making a deal” with your child. Telling your child that if they don’t like it you’ll come and pick them up sets your child up for failure and deprives them of a great opportunity to grow in independence.

When you arrive at camp, you will be checking in with the Camp Directors and you will meet your child’s counselors. Help them get set-up in their cabin and take a walk around camp with them (strongly encouraged if it’s your first time) so you and they become comfortable with the surroundings. Once they’re settled, our recommendation is that you don’t linger around camp too long. Staying too long just delays the transition to being at camp. Don’t worry – we’ve been taking care of kids for more than 54 years at Valaqua, and we will keep them safe!

While your child is at Valaqua it is difficult to maintain direct communication. Camp is a busy week and the campers are on the go for most of the day. If you need to talk to your child, call the camp office and we will make arrangements. If you are worried about how your child is doing, give us a call and we can check in with their counsellor, have a chat with them about how the week is going, and give you an update.

Calling home is a tricky one as for many kids the call to mom and dad triggers or worsens homesickness by reminding them that they miss you and love you. We use our discretion with phone calls home, but do not “bar the door.” If your child needs to talk to you, we will make sure they have the chance, but first we will encourage them to engage in everything we can offer at Valaqua and will try to help them focus on the fun that they are having here and now.

A Final Note
Valaqua has been helping kids Discover God in Creation for almost three generations and our return rate is very high. The majority of our staff grow out of our leadership programs and our leadership programs are populated with our campers. This means that we know our staff well before we hire them.

Our goal is to make sure that your child has a fun, safe week that is full of personal, spiritual, and relational growth. The suggestions above help your child to be prepared and help us accomplish our goal of giving your child a great week at camp!

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five questions to ask before you send your kids to camp

Father Holding Daughter's HandOk, so if you are a first time camp parent or sending your kids to a new camp for the first time you are bound to have some trepidation about trusting your little one to these… other people. I get this. I am a parent and I have a deep appreciation for what it means each and every time another parent chooses to trust us with the care of their child for a week. It is a BIG DEAL and we recognize the responsibility and do our best to make sure you feel good about your choice too.

So here is a way to feel better about your choice. Here are five questions I suggest you ask before you register your child for summer camp.

Do you have a mission statement?
All camps and organizations should have a mission statement. The question is; is it a mission statement that you support? Camp Valaqua’s mission statement is on our website and in the minds of all of our staff because we train them with it. If you call and ask about a mission statement, the staff member on the phone should be able to give you an outline of what it is. This gives you a good idea of the guiding principles of the camp and how well they are carried out at the staff level. Too often boards come up with mission statements and the staff are not connected with them. Knowing that the staff can articulate the mission statement and that it is one you are comfortable with is a good sign.

Just for the record, Valaqua’s mission statement is right here:

Camp Valaqua is dedicated to proclaiming the Good News that God is the Creator, we are God’s people, and the earth is placed in our hands as a gift and a trust.
We give campers the opportunity to:
• develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
• live with others in Christian community
• learn how to care for God’s Creation
• have fun in a safe and accepting environment

MP900144546How do you find your staff members?
What are your staff members trained in? How do you hire them? Where do they come from?

The obvious answer to the first question should be first aid as well as any activity related skills. There should be more though, staff should be trained in working with kids on all sorts of levels: dealing with behavior  homesickness, bullying, and a host of site specific training.

Hiring practices are worth asking about too. Do you require security clearances? Child Welfare Checks? References? Who does the interviews? The specific answers are important, but less important than the assurance that all of these things have been thought about and that there is a process in place for hiring summer staff.

Where staff come from and how they are hired tell a story. I am in the enviable position in that I usually know my staff very well before they become my staff. The staff we hire grow up in our camp program and I usually know them as campers, volunteers, and Counselors in Training before I hire them to the position of counselor  Knowing where the staff come from counts for something. Staff hired in international exchanges or from across the country can be great, but it is hard to know who will show up when staff training starts.

Are you accredited or do you follow any universal standards?
Each province has a governing body that oversees the accreditation of the camps in that province. Here in Alberta, the Alberta Camping Association has an accreditation program for summer camps that sets a minimum standard for camps to uphold. Accreditation deals with things like staffing ratios, safety issues, certification requirements and ensures that the camp you are looking at follows the minimum industry best practices. Asking if the camp is accredited, by whom, and how long it has been accredited helps you to get a good idea of the standards the camp maintains.

Is your camp part of a larger organization?
Many camps are just one piece of a larger organization. Camp Valaqua is owned and operated by Mennonite Church Alberta, and knowing this, you can find out a bit about us by looking up what Mennonite Church Alberta does and stands for. Knowing who the parent organization is helps to identify the camp.

What will my child’s cabin group look like?IMGP3169
Knowing how the cabins are structured, how many kids and staff are grouped together, and what the facility looks like gives you an idea what the week at camp will look like for your child.

Staff ratios, sleeping accommodation, size of the group, even requesting images of the actual cabins they will be staying in are all fair questions.

One more piece of advice; don’t hesitate to ask. I answer a lot of questions from nervous parents each and every year and even if you are sure no one has ever been this nervous before or asked this question before I assure you, you’re not the only one. Ask away. We are on the same team, you and I, we both want your child to have a great week at camp.

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What summer camp should be and why your kids should go

IMG_2826Ah summer camp. If I had my druthers then any mention of summer camp would bring forth memories of sunsets by the water, music around the campfire and amazing over-the-top experiences. When camp is doing the things it should be doing, it creates an environment where kids have opportunities to grow in all sorts of directions. When camp is doing it right campers grow in self-confidence, they grow in their relationships with others, and they grow in independence.

According to the Alberta Camping Association, camps are defined as short term events in which four of the five following criteria are met:
Physically active experience
Natural environment experience
Community experience
Educational experience
Peer leadership experience
Physically Active Experience

Physically active experience
When summer camp is doing the things it should be doing, then it is a physically active experience. Note this doesn’t say a physically intimidating experience or a physically competitive experience, just physically active. My background is in physical education and if there is one thing I can get on a soapbox and rant about it is how we compartmentalize physical activity. We break physical activity into a single component of our day: I will be physically active between 4:30 and 5 pm and then feel pretty good about sitting on the couch for the rest of the evening. At camp, being physically active is part of the landscape. There are scheduled components no doubt, but the components of your day are made of activity: You swim in the river and climb on the wall and run in the field and you do it all as beats of the clock. But it doesn’t end there, the moments between are in a landscape of physicality and reality. You walk where you need to go and you carry what you need for activities. There are games to play and frisbees to throw and real life fun to be had. All of this changes our perspective of being physically active from that of “working out” to incorporate it into our lives. When running around is fun you never need to “train” for anything.

DSC06018Natural Environment Experience
Camps give us the opportunity to connect with the natural world. In Richard Louve’s fabulous book Last Child in the Woods he coins the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to help understand a new breed of sickness: a lack of connection with the natural world. The natural spaces are disappearing from our children’s world at an alarming rate. When camp is doing the things it should be doing it gives campers an amazing opportunity to experience creation first hand! I have been able to share thunderstorms, rainbows, owls, elk, moose, countless bugs, deer, and many other amazing experiences in creation with campers in my care. Many times I have had these experiences recounted to me years later when I meet the camper again. The natural world impacts our kids in ways we don’t yet fully understand but the impact is deep and camp provides one way to experience that world firsthand.

Community Experience
Camp provides a unique community for the campers who come here. A camp community has almost an island feel to it, being a community that is both away from the everyday and also somewhat isolated from the outside world. When campers come to Valaqua, they have an opportunity to start fresh. The sense of away-ness that is created here allows kids to leave the labels they carry in their everyday lives behind and to be the person they truly want to be.
The short term nature of camp means community must form fast and the intensity of a week at camp can often temper relationships to a harder edge than those formed in less intense environments. The incredibly strong community formed at camp is a palpable thing and a major goal of what camps aim to do in the week or more that your child is part of the program.

sleep-away-5Educational experience
When a camp is doing what it should be doing it creates an educational experience for the campers who attend. The topic of education can be a broad one; anything from how to paddle a canoe to how to be a better neighbor, but the goal is the same: for the camper to leave the program with more resources and knowledge than they came with.
We also know that skills are not gained in a vacuum. The ability to do a J stroke in a canoe may not help in future career endeavors, but the confidence and belief in oneself gained from acquiring the skill most certainly will. When I see the “Aha!” moment on a camper’s face as they realize the acquisition of a new skill or new piece of knowledge, I recognize that I am seeing a step in the construction of a whole person.

Peer leadership experience
A peer leadership experience is an aspect of a successful summer camp program that is often viewed as a happy coincidence rather than a core piece of camp work. When camp is doing what it should be doing it gives young people the opportunity to be leaders.
Camp is one of the few places in this world where we put young people in charge. We train them up, give them the resources they need, and then hand over the keys. This is huge in the development of young leaders. Very few places in the world do we truly trust our young people to take on the challenge of leading and organizing anything. What I have learned in my years as a camp Director is that these young staff will surprise you! They have tools and depths of energy and resilience that we hadn’t even guessed at. Sure they make mistakes. Sure the judgement isn’t always 100%, but that is why mentors stand close at hand, ready to intervene in the big moments if necessary. The camp formula provides our young people opportunities to lead and there is no better training to do something then the act of doing it.

A physically active experience, a natural environment experience, a community experience, an educational experience, and a peer leadership experience. These are the cornerstones of Summer Camp. The order and priority may shift, but these 5 components are the keystones to a great camp experience!

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