Find Your Inner #Shero

Molly DeWitt is the Program Director at Pyoca Camp & Retreat Center.

This week I attended the first ever Women in Camp Summit. It is hard to describe the instant sense of ease that I had when I arrived. There are few places one can go where the people there just get you. Not to mention, where you feel comfortable almost instantly. It was a place where I knew that I was seen.

This conference was dreamt up in less than a year by leading camp professionals across North America. Over 100 women from 27 states and 4 Canadian provinces gathered around the theme of Visibility. Voices. Vision.

We heard the history (#herstory) of female camp professionals from the first female CEO of the American Camp Association, Peg Smith, attended workshops, networked, and engaged in Mentor Chats with leading women in the camp industry. We laughed, cried, bonded, and learned from one another, gaining new friends and colleagues.

This week I felt validated in my call, my voice, and my presence. In a sense, I found church in a generally secular space. I learned a lot about running a camp, from mental health care, programming, staff training, being a supervisor, etc. All things one generally learns at a professional development conference.

I grew as a leader, but most importantly, I found women who understood how important it is for girls to find their voice in a world that often silences them. I found my camp #sheroes.

In recent years I have become aware of what a blessing it was that I was able to grow up with so many amazing female leaders in my life. Throughout my time in seminary, I found out that I was the odd one out because I had had four different female pastors in my church when I was growing up. At the time, all served in associate pastor positions where I was able to see the image of God reflected in the pulpit through women just like me. Many of my female peers in seminary did not have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in church leadership as young girls.

I was also blessed to have strong, independent women in my family who believed that camp would be a good influence on my sister and I. As a camper, I looked up to fierce young adult women who were my counselors. They modeled a wide range of femininity at camp. There was no expectation to be made up everyday. You were encouraged to get dirty, and most importantly, young girls were encouraged to speak their minds.

In many areas of my life, just ask my family, I have not been shy to speak my mind. I attribute this to the strong women who have had a part in raising me: my fierce grandmas, my compassionate mom, and my extremely hard working and smart sister.

Yet, in many areas of my life this has been deemed an unattractive quality. I have been in a number of situations (even in the Church) where my age or gender has made me question whether I should even be in the room, leading me to stay silent. In instances where I have spoken out, I could feel my statements being questioned, even if I received smiles and nods from the room. I have no doubt that many women can relate.

I remind myself that my voice has every right to be heard as someone else’s, but I have to wonder for the girls and young women who didn’t/don’t have fierce female leaders around them, who is telling them that their voice in the Church and the world matters? Who is telling them to keep speaking out? Because for many of them, their health and safety depends upon it.

At Pyoca, our mission is that ALL are welcome in God’s love to explore, grow, rest, and play. I truly hope that all are able to do so, but a large part of me also hopes that girls and women especially know that camp is a space where they can explore who they are outside of the norms and pressures imposed upon them by society. They can grow into whoever God is calling them to be and find rest from the weary world that still tends to silence them. I hope they can play and find adventure that redefines what girls are capable of, because girls CAN lift canoes and climb the high ropes course, too.

For any women or girls who may question it, YOU MATTER. You matter because God loves you, created you, and gave you a voice and a calling. You are worth being seen, heard, and believed.

-Molly

*Many thanks to CampBrain for sending me to this Summit. It would have been impossible without your support.

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Find Your Inner #Shero

Camp Traditions: The TALKS

This week’s blog contributor is Beatrice Beverly, the Program and Volunteer Director of Stop the Violence Indianapolis. Each summer Beatrice brings 24 girls from Indianapolis down to Pyoca for “The TALKS,” a program which empowers young women to be the best version of themselves. “The primary purpose of the “The TALKS – identifying the Mirror in YOU™” workshops is to start young ladies on a path of self awareness and self worth by starting with the inside.” IMG_5179

There are several things I can honestly say that I have been known to say: be careful what you ask for and I’m not doing that!  GOD always has the first, second, third and every other word in between the last.

Growing up in the city, I have never been an outdoor connoisseur.  I did not enjoy eating outside or actually playing outside (bugs were NOT my friend).  As I got older, I was able to make my own decisions and being outside was not one of my desired choices. I didn’t mind being outdoors for a tad bit but an extended stay was definitely out of the question.  I say all of this so that you can understand how a Seventh-Day Adventist, converted to Baptist, black city girl ended up appreciating one of the most beautiful pieces of land/atmosphere that I had ever seen in Indiana – PYOCA Camp and Retreat Center.

A sister-friend who is a member of one of the local churches introduced me to the Presbyterian faith, so I was familiar with the teachings but I was not aware at that time of the camp.   One bright and shining day I received a call about a potential opportunity and so begins my journey.  After much discussion, grant writing, site visits and meetings, STVI set sail on July 29th 2014, with 24 young ladies, chaperones, volunteers and facilitators on a bright yellow school bus down the highway of 65 South into a land of uncharted grounds as far as I was concerned.  In my mind I was responsible for individuals that had:

  1. never been out of their neighborhoods, let alone the city of Indianapolis
  2. didn’t know each other (hence the personality/alpha characteristics were quickly exposed)
  3. trusted me (as much as they could because they didn’t know me) to ensure their safety and well-being at the camp for the days we were to be there!

When I say I was so far out of my comfort zone and scared of the unknown it had me doubting and praying, praying and doubting and trying to figure out how to get this bus to turn around without revealing my fears as the driver drove down 65 South for the next 1 ½ hour.  I played in my head different scenarios; I silently cried (I mean a true internal hard/ugly cry), my stomach was having an internal boxing match and I was losing.  I feared snakes, bugs, staff (YES, I said staff), darkness, water, absolutely everything, I didn’t know what to expect and I definitely didn’t know how to react in an environment that I wasn’t comfortable with to begin with.

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Well, we arrived and the very first thing I noticed was that Mike and another guy (I didn’t know who he was at the time but I now know him as Brad) stood in front of the Lodge right below a cross (I didn’t notice it during my previous visit) and immediately I felt peace!  It didn’t remove the fact that I was outside of my comfort zone but I did get a sense of “peace” which helped me to open my mind and be receptive to the possibilities that laid ahead of me for the week and it placed John 14:27 in my heart for “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” and for the rest of the week I felt GOD’s presence.

I felt him as I walked around the entire lake, through shrubs, spider webs, spiders, frogs and a host of other outdoor creatures!  I experienced him when we eat the meals that were prepared for us, I experienced him when I slept (for the first time) on a camp bed, I experienced him when I looked at the natural beauty that surrounded me in the wild flowers, fallen and standing trees and the fish and frogs as they swam in the lake.  I experienced him when the darkness of the night fell upon us and all I saw were the stars, I experienced him when we woke to see the sunrise, I experienced him as I watched girls for the first time swim in a lake, jump off the trampoline and canoe or kayak down the river, I experienced him when we sit in the chapel and praised GOD during our closing ceremonies.  So you see I experienced him during a time when I once said “I’m not doing that.”

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I experienced him and was able to comfort young ladies and my peace became their peace and they too were able to experience the wonders of GOD. I remember one girl saying as we were walking the 3 mile trail – “we just got a lot of abundant buildings and houses in our neighborhood, we don’t have any of this.”  What an impact, a lifelong impact that moment of time will have on her life.

So you see if you just be still and let GOD lead you, you just might travel down a highway known as 65 South doing something that you said you would never do and land on the grounds of a place called PYOCA Camp and Retreat Center.

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Signed,

Sincerely, GRATEful…..Beatrice Beverly

 

 

Camp Traditions: The TALKS

Camp Traditions: Pyoca Week One

Each week this summer has shown a different side of Pyoca programs. This week, during Pyoca Week One programs, guest writer Kim Van Wyk shares how camp has shaped her life. Kim has been coming to Pyoca her entire life and doesn’t miss any chance to visit camp.  Here is her story…

Written by Pyoca alum and volunteer, Kim Van Wyk:

I can hear the musical works of The Proclaimers, They Might Be Giants, and

Toto. My coffee mug has Coca-Cola in it. And I have a bug bite on my ankle that has

itched for 3 days. It’s Friday morning and the last day of camp. I’m exhausted. My throat

is sore. I have a sunglass tan. I would take this five times over because above all, I’m so

sad to be leaving my favorite place in the world.

My passion for working with kids and love of camp is somewhat cyclical. My love

of being around kids compelled me to be a counselor 11 summers ago, and being a

counselor for 11 years has driven my love of being around kids. It’s a very symbiotic

relationship.

The fifth graders I teach just had their farewell ceremony, as the end of school is

near. In preparation for this ceremony, my coworker and I took pictures of each student

with a sign saying, “Future ___.” They wrote what they want to be when they grow up. If

Mrs. Mintz had done that to me when I was in 5th grade, I would’ve have said I was

going to be an OB-GYN. Spoiler Alert: I did not become an OB-GYN. My next plan was

to be a pediatric nurse. Spoiler Alert: I did not become a nurse.

I. Love. Camp. I would give many, many things to be there. As a camper and

counselor, family vacations were cut short. I left my sister’s bachelorette party early,

personal relationships were tested, and I’ve literally missed out on thousands of dollars

in summer jobs and internships.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My oldest sister double majored in Theatre and Theatre Arts Administration and

my middle sister graduated with an English degree and minored in Art and Arts

Administration. I became a teacher. None of us will own yachts and take multi-week

vacations every summer. Our passions were always put before the desire to make

loads of money. That said, if you want to hit me up on Venmo with some donations to

my savings account, I won’t stop you.

Valuing passions over profit is a reason I can be found at my summer camp

every year instead of working a second job. It doesn’t pay me in money, but it pays in

memories, friendships, and rejuvenation- both physically, spiritually, and mentally.

I am my happiest at camp. I feel most in touch with who I am and who I want to

be when I am at camp. It is exhausting and invigorating at the same time. Everything

good in life can be found at camp.

As a camper (2000-2006), I enjoyed the lake, campfire, and Ms. Peggy’s

cinnamon rolls. My counselors were my role models, and the images I have of them are

still deeply embedded into my image of Amazing Woman and Counselor.

As a counselor (first volunteer, then Pyoca staff member, and now back to

volunteer), you carry the necessities: bug spray, 1st aid kit, song book, water bottle,

pens, friendship bracelet string, and much more. Your Chacos (sandals) are prepared for

creek stomping and your tye-dye skills are honed and ready. You also track who is sitting

with whom during meals to make sure no one is left out and check rooms to make sure

kids are sleeping so they have energy for the next day. You are careful with your words,

making sure you are trusted and welcoming to all campers. You unclog toilets and pick

up lost and found towels every week. You try (and for me, fail) at starting campfires.

And you also just listen. You listen for small openings into campers’ lives.

During my two Pyoca staff summers, I watched kids laugh and cry, sing and

pray. I watched relationships bud and flourish amongst their peers as well as with their

counselors.

But most importantly, I learned what it meant to love. The Greek word Philia is the

love I learned at camp. It’s a deep friendship love. It’s the loyalty to friends, the

sacrifices you make, and the sharing of emotions with them. Camp is where I found

that. I found it as a camper, and even more strongly as a counselor.

In terms of friendships with other counselors, you need to know one thing. One day

at camp is like a week in the real world. You spend nearly every moment of your

summer, good or bad, with the same people. You can’t help but recognize the goodness

and beauty within each of your new-found friends, many of whom feel like family. You

create spontaneous memories that bond you for life, no matter how often you talk or

what geographic obstacles stand in your way.

Looking back, there’s many procedures, activities, and lessons from camp that prepared

me for teaching (Oh, yeah; I’m a teacher!), but there’s one statement that encompasses

them all. When a child comes to camp, those parents are trusting you, a 19-year old,

with their whole heart. They are trusting you to care and love their reason in life. And

that responsibility cannot be taken lightly. The statement is simple, but it drives

everything I’ve done as a counselor and teacher. Each interaction with a child is judged

on whether or not I am honoring that concept.

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An Incomplete List of Ways Camp Prepared Me to Teach:

  • Pick up on small comments. They are a window into home life and what’s really on kid’s mind. When a camper changes a subject, or interjects with something you think is off topic, go with it. You don’t know to what it may lead.
  • Trust the child. In matters of emergency and safety, believe the child in front of you. They are coming to you for a reason.
  • Kids are exactly that. Kids. They will make mistakes. They will stay up late. They will try to get away without showering. Recognize that you were a child too, and let them have their chance. Just make sure it’s all done in a safe space, still with guidelines. Please make them shower.
  • Brain breaks help everyone. If a family group lesson feels dull, sing a song, play a game, make up a skit. Just do something.
  • Embrace the silliness. I am eccentric and wild and full of energy most of the time. Camp should be the one place that a camper can be themselves. Let the “nerdy” kids nerd out and join in with them. Let the drama kings and queens participate in campfire. Let the camper who sits back and takes it all in observe and ask for their advice on how to make whatever it is better. Try to meet kids where they already are.
  • When in doubt, play Poison Dart Frog. Finished High Ropes early? Finished your I-STEP test before the other classrooms? Poison Dart Frog.
Camp Traditions: Pyoca Week One

The Magic of Mail

Written by Program Director, Molly DeWitt

There’s just something about receiving a handwritten note in the mail that cannot be described. Seeing someone else’s familiar handwriting provides a sense of glee, gratitude, and connection. It has the inherent ability to make you feel special.

In my experience, few people write handwritten notes anymore, aside from birthday cards. Mail nowadays seems boring, something that only brings bills, ads, and the occasional newsletter. Handwritten mail, however, is something to be cherished and often saved to look at over and over.

Camp mail is altogether extraordinary to receive. You know if you have camp mail that someone has taken time out of their day to write to you and see how you are doing. Very rarely do we write friends or family notes anymore. It takes a lot more effort than we are accustomed to in regard to communication, which is now essentially instant.

I remember being so annoyed at my mom for forcing me to write thank you notes by hand as a kid whenever I received a gift, yet at the same time being delighted when she would take the time to send me a card at camp.

I received cards every year I was at camp, nine years total, even when I was in high school. I have many of them still saved in a box. My mom continued to send me notes while in college, during my two years as a Young Adult Volunteer, and as recently as when I was Pyoca’s seminary intern. Even now as a soon-to-be seminary graduate and camp Program Director, my mom sends me handwritten notes in the mail.

In our technological age, handwritten mail is almost unheard of. Generally, if we want to know how someone is doing, we just text or email them. We have camper email at Pyoca, but somehow it’s not quite the same as receiving a real letter. Email often has a sense of urgency, whereas postal mail signifies intimacy and precious time spent to convey a message to a loved one.

We’ve started encouraging campers, particularly the younger ones, to write home about their day or if they’re feeling a little homesick. One short note and one email a week is typically what I would receive from my mom and it was just enough to encourage me to have a good time at camp, while not making me homesick. “Hope you’re having fun! We can’t wait to hear all about it!” was just enough to remind me that I was loved.

I have parents and grandparents tell me often that they have saved the notes written to them by their children from 30+ years ago at camp. What a family treasure it is to be able to look back on a week of one’s life and remember the transformative experience of camp, all encapsulated in one letter.

If you are interested in sending your child a letter at camp, be sure to send it with the addressed formatted as below:

Pyoca Camp & Retreat Center

℅ Camper Name (i.e. Susie Camper)

Camp (i.e. Discover)

886 E CR 100 S

Brownstown, IN 47220

 

*Note: We greatly encourage letters and cards, but discourage sending packages to campers.

The Magic of Mail

Grief, Camp, & Remembrance

Written by Acting Executive Director, Mike Davis.

Last weekend, in the midst of a very busy retreat weekend at camp, volunteers young and old from near and far descended on the Pyoca grounds. They carried with them garden implements of every type, plants purchased and plucked from their own yards, and heavy hearts.

Days of service and volunteer projects are a common occurrence at Pyoca, but Saturday was different. As always, we worked to give back to the place where our lives have been changed, but we also worked to honor the saints who have gone before us. They helped to create this place, encouraged us to go Pyoca as retreat guests and campers, and mentored us every step of the way.

From the latter months of 2017 into early 2018, Pyoca lost two active board members and another retired board member. I was in utter shock and dismay announcing the losses one after another to the board and Pyoca community, especially considering losing my grandmother suddenly in September. These were all people that shaped me, pushed me, and cared for me, as well as countless others.

During the day of service we told stories of these saints, both of their caring nature and of their wit, as well as a humorous blunder or two.

In between weeding and leaf raking tears and laughter were shared. Grief was embraced and gaping wounds were not healed, but given aid. The day was capped off with a worship service and memorial tree planting.

Grief, sadness, and heartache are not things you often associate with camp, but are nonetheless present in the lives of our campers, retreat guests, volunteers, and staff. We can’t expect our campers to explore, grow, rest, and play without first reflecting on the weight they may carry to camp.

As our Program Director and soon-to-be minister, Molly DeWitt, said in her homily on Saturday, grief is a healthy part of life and not something to be ignored.

It has always been said that Pyoca is not just a place, but an experience. We believe that the experience comes from the people who shape the place. As the hands and feet of Christ we are called to care for our neighbors. I have never seen this call so fully expressed as I have over these past few months, and particularly this weekend.

At Pyoca, we give thanks to God for a community that comes together and surrounds one another with love in good times and bad.

Grief, Camp, & Remembrance

Growing in Faith

Written by Pyoca alumna Sammie Smith. Sammie is also an alum of the Young Adult Volunteer Program and is currently studying toward her M.Div at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. She is under care of Whitewater Valley Presbytery as she seeks ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

It’s not uncommon to hear about church decline in mainstream denominations right now. Statistically, membership and participation are falling and there’s no hiding from that. So, how should we be in community with each other when we have this morbid thought in the background? I think that the best way to stay connected in to invest deeper into camp ministry.

Yes, I come from a church home that I was really active in growing up, but I’m not sure how connected I would have been if it wasn’t for camp in my life. Pyoca has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started going to camp as soon as I was old enough, which was when I was eight years old. In the beginning, I started going to camp because my older brother went every summer, and he loved it so much. When I was that little, I didn’t think much of camp other than the fact that it was a fun place for me to play games, swim, hike, and sing silly songs for a few days.

As I grew older, camp had much more of a presence in my life. I started to understand what it meant to be a person with a faith identity, which was Presbyterian for me. The worship time started to last for longer chunks of time, and I actually started to enjoy it. I loved the fact that I could connect with it because it’s hard for a child to really connect with the Presbyterian traditions of hymns, worship structures, and prayers that we said in unison. When I was at camp, we sang contemporary Christian music that a middle schooler, like myself, could understand. Don’t get me wrong, I much prefer hymns now, but as a kid, it was hard enough to understand what the hymns were saying let alone begin to connect those words with my own life. We also had small group time at camp, which we called family group, where we would do a Bible study and hash out what it meant to be a person of faith.

Another aspect of camp life that I truly cherish are the relationships that I formed with the people there. We would go through a week of being together non-stop and experience tremendous emotional and spiritual growth together. That is, we learned what it meant to be in Christian community. Experiencing the same week of camp together for years formed a bond with those friends that I can’t relate to anything else. I think this is even more true for the people that I worked on staff with as a camp counselor. I was able to experience some of my toughest moments with the same people for an entire summer.

One of my favorite parts of camp was graduating from simply being a camper to working on summer staff. I worked at Pyoca for four summers, with three different job titles. Working at camp seemed like it lasted a lifetime and, at the same time, flashed before my eyes. A cool part of working on staff was seeing how much really went into a summer of programming in terms of time, energy, planning, and funding. It also made me realize the tremendous weight of responsibility that was placed on people who were in college and basically still kids.

I think I learned more about myself and life skills during my summers on staff than I learned in my life outside of camp. I learned how to balance the safety of campers while also trying to maximize the fun that they could have. I learned how to take care of myself in terms of rest, physical activity, diet, and emotional and spiritual support in order to ensure that I could last an entire summer. I also quickly figured out that I was learning more from the campers, who were several years younger than I was, than I could ever teach them.

I vividly remember during my third summer on staff: it was my first time directing an on-site program and I had this perfect schedule that was jam-packed with activities. The trouble was that it rained every single day of camp that week. We had to figure out on a minute-to-minute basis what we were going to do next, and I’m pretty sure that we played every single indoor game that we had available in our resource room during the first two days. But, my favorite part of the week was when we embraced the rain and the waterlogged playfield, and we played barefoot ultimate frisbee for the afternoon. I remember the joy I felt seeing campers who I never expected to run and slide on their bellies through the mud and actually get up smiling.

Pyoca has played such a crucial role in my life and I truly believe that churches need to invest in camp. It is the place where I am the most at peace, and it’s where I have met some of my closest, dearest friends in my life. I genuinely believe that I would not be the same person that I am now if I hadn’t grown up at camp. During my summers on staff, I was able to learn how to be a positive role model to kids in the church. I learned the most random tactile skills, such as demolishing a stone wall with a sledgehammer, and I was given the opportunity to be a leader to other people my age. If we take our commitment to the life of the body of Christ seriously, then we need to invest our time and resources into kids who are the future of the church and who can be spiritually nourished through camp ministry.

Growing in Faith

More Than A Scrapbook Memory

Written by guest blogger: Rev. C. Allen Colwell* of St. John Presbyterian Church, New Albany, Indiana.

Last summer a volunteer and I drove one of the children who live in the neighborhood of our church to camp. Even before it officially started, they giggled and smiled at even the experience of driving down a two-lane, hilly, country road — something that they had never done before. For them, it ended up being a week of “never having done somethings,” from sleeping on the top bunk of a bed to swimming in a lake, from campfire songs to making new friends. It was for them an experience as many of you all have experienced for yourselves — the type of life-defining experience that only a place like Pyoca can offer.

That child would not have had the opportunity to go to camp that week if it hadn’t been for the faithfulness of our congregation. St. John Church has a long history of supporting Pyoca and shares a passion for making it possible for any child to spend a week at camp, whether they can afford it or not. Every year we gather for a fundraising luncheon that raises thousands of dollars, donated by persons who pitch in everything between $5 to the cost of an entire week of camp. These funds get used to offer half-scholarships and full ones, both for the members of our church family, but also our extended neighborhood family as well.

One of the persons who helps coordinate the event, which also features testimonials from previous campers, says that the idea is to invite the church to “meet some of the kids whose eyes light up when you mention Pyoca.” Another sees it as a chance for people to draw upon the camp experience in order to “spark a desire to help provide that experience to other kids,” again, those who by circumstances would not have the means to go.

We are by no means a large church but take pride in being able to send one of the largest numbers of campers every summer. And we pray that you all might consider doing the same. Because it is an immense blessing to hear about the joy of a camp that is more than a place and an experience that will forever change a child’s life by a week that is more than a scrapbook memory.

*You can check out Pastor Allen’s own blog Growing in Grace at: https://pastorallen07.wordpress.com/

More Than A Scrapbook Memory