Blog by Rev. Nick Jeffries, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Part of camp life is saying goodbye. We say goodbye to retreat groups at the end of every weekend, or summer campers at the end of the week, or summer staff at the end of the summer. Camp is a place where people come and go all the time. Yet somehow, I still struggle with saying goodbye.
I've had several opportunities at goodbyes recently. In the past few months, our Food Service Director, Nicole, and her family moved to Iowa so her husband can continue to follow God's call into pastoral ministry. Chris, a summer staffer from New Zealand, completed his third summer and headed to Canada to work on a ranch with bison and zebras. And then there was Larry...
Larry and I met at Chestnut Ridge in 2006, he as a camp counselor, and I in my first year as Program Director. After the summer, we parted ways and went on with our lives. We kept tabs on each other through acquaintances and Larry would stop by camp from time to time (as many former staff do). Then in 2012, Larry went on a solo cross country motorcycle trip for several weeks. Afterwards, I took him out to lunch to hear about his adventures and the next phase of his life. He shared with me how he wanted to start a farm in order to help feed people in need. I said, "That sounds fantastic! But that certainly won't pay the bills." And that's how - 6 years later - Larry ended up back working at camp as our Assistant Maintenance Guy - helping around camp to make money in order to fulfill his dream of starting the farm. This fall, we said goodbye, as Larry moved to Washington State to run a farm at a ministry that helps former inmates, gang members, and people struggling with addiction. He is certainly living into the dream of feeding those in need through farming. Larry certainly helped us at camp, and I like to think that camp helped Larry as well, on his way to fulfilling God's call in his life. I am blessed to have people in my life like Nicole, Chris, and Larry that I am able to call "friend". These are people I worked with, argued with, worshiped with, and broke bread with.
The nature of camp is a transient community grounded in a specific place. People interact with camp in different ways. Some for only a day or a weekend. Others spend practically their entire childhood here, through the after school program and summer day camp. Whatever their experience, somehow camp maintains a "gravity" that pulls people back to it. I believe camp serves as a "touchstone" in many lives. A place where something significant happened. Something that really matters. Something that touches them deep inside and draws them back to this sacred place.
So I think part of why goodbyes are so weird for me, is that somehow, I always feel like I will see the person again. Even if they go off to Iowa or back to New Zealand. Somewhere in my heart, I really just feel like our paths will cross again. In the end, I guess I am just grateful that I live and work in a community, where I get to encounter so many amazing people (and thus have to say goodbye when they leave). A community where even the Assistant Maintenance Guy leaving is an event that deserves a "good" goodbye. A community where love endures, and co-workers are lucky enough to call each other friends.
Did you recently have a "good" goodbye? Does camp serve as a touchstone in your life? Let me know in the comments below...
The other day my 3-year-old, Levi, tagged along with the intersession campers for part of the day. For my wife, it was a nice small break from a 3-year-old who talks incessantly. For me, it was just another day as a Camp Director - offering wonderful outdoor programs for kids. But when we sat around the table for dinner that night, I realized that it wasn't just another day for Levi. It was a day AT CAMP...
Levi went with the campers on a hike to Big Rock, which is basically a big rock out in the woods that juts out of the side of a hill. The campers like to climb it and sometimes slide down it. Levi described his experience something like this - "We went to Big Rock, which is a REALLY tall rock. At first I had to hold Reese's hand when I slid down. But then I got braver and braver and BRAVER! Then I was sliding down all by myself!" As Levi told me this story, he was very excited and wore a grin that stretched from ear to ear. He was so proud of what he had done, and the courage he had found that day. A simple thing like a rock, when utilized by capable counselors, turned into a tool for boosting self-esteem, courage, and feelings of independence and confidence.
Levi also told me about his experience at tetherball. Levi's description went something like this, "We played that game with the ball on the string that you hit. And I was on Andrew's team. And we were playing against the other team! Mostly Andrew hit it, but my team won!" It doesn't come across well through this typing, but the way that he said "team" and "my team" held great meaning. The most important thing to him about this story was not that he played or won, but that he was part of a team. He felt included, like he belonged - he was part of a community larger than himself.
For me, it was just another day at camp. But Levi's experience reminded me that every day at camp holds potential for positive, life-changing, transformation. Every day at camp, campers are trying new things, learning new skills, and being part of a team. These experiences translate into feelings of positive self-esteem, confidence, independence, courage, inclusion, and belonging - all hugely important tools kids need to live vibrant, healthy, connected lives.
What I've described above is one child's experience of one day at camp. But this process plays out over and over at Chestnut Ridge for thousands of campers and guests almost every day of the year. Some keys that make this experience transformational include:
- Campers don't experience these things stuck inside a building - but outside exploring the natural world.
- They don't experience it through a screen - but in the physical world with their bodies.
- Their friends are not virtual or pretend - but real living, breathing people that they can see, touch, hear, laugh with, and play with.
- Most importantly, campers don't experience these things by themselves - but in community. In a safe, nurturing environment that encourages them in positive ways, and loves them for who they are, not for who they can become.
As a parent, this is exactly the kind of experience I want for my child. My prayer is that all children who come through Chestnut Ridge this year will be positively impacted in both simple and profound ways.
Blog by Rev. Nick Jeffries, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
The other night my son and I built a campfire, roasted marshmallows, and ate smores together in the backyard. Was it a special occasion? Birthday? Friends over for dinner? Nope. We made smores just because it was Wednesday. We had no better reason than that. So we had a special evening together, collecting sticks, being mesmerized by the fire, and getting marshmallow goo all over our hands and face. Just my son and I. It was not a special occasion, but it was an occasion that we made special by spending quality time together.
Summer camp is full of ordinary occasions made special.
- An ordinary Tuesday at lunch becomes memorable when counselors dress up like super heroes attempting to "rescue" the squash.
- A normal day at the pool quickly turns into a party with a little music, a few pool games, and some energetic counselors.
- A climb in a tree becomes a self-esteem boost when that tree happens to be part of the high challenge course
- Digging in the dirt turns into a learning opportunity when a camper says, "oh! that's what a broccoli plant looks like!" and realizes where their food actually comes from.
- Time spent grooming and riding a large horse becomes so much more when a camper who is struggling to connect with peers and won't talk to her parents, connects with the horse she's riding and starts showing affection, love, and displaying a smile not seen in a while.
- A simple walk around the lake turns into a pivotal faith formation moment through the sharing of Biblical stories and God's love.
Summer camp is not about celebrating life's special occasions. It's about celebrating life and making occasions special. It's taking the simple acts of living in community - eating, worshiping, living, laughing, farming - and making them into special memories that last a lifetime. That's why our interviews with potential summer staff contain questions like, "What do you do for fun?" and "Tell me about the silliest, goofiest thing you did this past year" and "You've got a 30 minute time slot to fill with the youngest campers, what do you do?" Yes, we're looking for mature, responsible young people, but we also want to be sure that they are engaging, energetic, and have the ability to make any moment special. That's why so many campers come back year after year. It's not because we have a pool, some horses, and food. It's what the creative, energetic, imaginative staff does with those things that makes the moment, and thereby makes the memory.
Don't wait for a special night, go make this normal night special. Get those marshmallows out and go make a campfire with the family tonight.
Join us for Father/Son or Mother/Daughter Camp to make a normal summer special this year
Blog by Rev. Nick Jeffries, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Camp Directors all have big dreams. We have big dreams of new programs to create, new facilities to build, and new populations to reach. We churn away every day working to get to the top of that mountain, to make those dreams reality. The problem is that we never reach the top of the mountain, because the target continues to move and we continue to dream new dreams.
But in the midst of the daily churn to reach that summit, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of 2011 and share with you where our dreams may take us in 2012.
- Chestnut Ridge served more summer campers than ever before. 2011 saw a 20% increase in residential campers over 2010.
- Thanks to generous individuals and churches, Chestnut Ridge gave away over $15,000 in camperships to provide financial aid for summer campers. One college age summer staff member even donated her entire summer paycheck to the campership fund because she didn't want any child to be turned away due to financial hardship.
- CR hosted the 1st annual Valentine's Daddy Daughter Dance and the 2nd annual Trail Run in November.
- CR completed construction of phase I of the Natural Playground - the wavy lawn in main camp.
- The dam was repaired so that Lake Fellowship will remain in place for years to come
- And probably the biggest event of 2011 had to do with the Equestrian Program. At the beginning of the year we had a decision to make. Chestnut Ridge was no longer going to have access to pastures we have borrowed for the last 8 years. Without a home for the horses, we were faced with a decision - 1.End the equestrian program at Chestnut Ridge or 2.Create a home for the horses on camp property. The leadership of the camp decided to keep the equestrian program, which has been one of the flagship programs of Chestnut Ridge since the beginning. Over the course of the year, 33 acres of pine forest were timbered, smoothed, and seeded for pasture. Special attention was given to protecting watersheds and old growth hardwood areas. The new pastures will give our horses a beautiful new home, and allow us to expand the equestrian program offerings at Chestnut Ridge.
Looking ahead to 2012...
- Improved Equestrian Facilities. We are currently raising funds to put a fence around the beautiful new horse pastures. The desire is to add run-in shelters, lights for the arena, and a new barn as funds are available.
- The Natural Playground is designed to be a natural space for kids and adults to reconnect with nature using their creativity and imaginations. Our hope is to begin implementing Phase II and adding safari huts, a sound garden, vine tunnels, a water element and so much more. The additions will occur as volunteers and funding are available.
- Joseph Eaton (a former camper and now summer staff) constructed a new Gaga Ball court as his eagle scout project, and we are currently installing a new Human Foosball court next to it, providing some unique new activity options for summer campers and after-schoolers.
- New Summer Camps for 2012 include Cooking Camp, where kids will learn cooking techniques using healthy whole ingredients from The Community Farm. And AT40, which is a high school camp featuring a 40 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail.
- Look for more info on the Mother-Son Day of Fun coming in May.
As I reflect on the accomplishments of 2011 and the dreams for 2012, I am struck by the relational nature of all these ventures. Folks riding horses together through the woods. A dad spending a special night dancing with his daughter. A church group gathering by the lake to worship. Campers spending time hiking an ancient trail together. These are memories that will last a lifetime, and experiences that go a long way towards forming, shaping, and strengthening the community in service to God and one another.
No one knows what the future holds or where our dreams will take us next. But I feel confident that at Chestnut Ridge, our dreams will continue to bring us closer to God, and closer to one another in community.
*If you feel led to donate to camperships, the equestrian facilities, or the natural playground, you can mail donations to 4300 Camp Chestnut Ridge Rd. Efland, NC 27243*
Recently, I published a sketch of what a school at Chestnut Ridge might look like. Since then, several families and educators have responded with enthusiastic support. Our board approved the creation of a task force to flush out the idea. The kids in our community are ready to start a countdown.
We adults know there is much more to it than that. I do believe, however, that it may be time to formalize some ideas and plans. With the groundwork laid in place, we could begin schooling at Chestnut Ridge in the 2010-11 school year.
What would this school look like? What mission might it have? What grades would we serve? How would we find the right teachers? Would we need any additional buildings? How many backpacking trips can we incorporate into the curriculum? How about drama, folk arts, and farming? Those have been the topics of back porch conversation.
We need to hear from other educators, people who have experience starting a school, people with passion and vision, and people with a passion for creating life-long learners.
If that’s you or someone you know, please join us for more back porch conversations. We’ll gather next from 5:30 – 6:30 pm on Wednesday, August 26 . (Our hope is that you can still make it home in time for supper; kids are welcome to hang out while we talk). Bring ideas, friends, and energy. Rocking chairs provided.
We were hiking and looking for ginger when he said it. A simple sentence by an eight year-old that's begun an exciting conversation. "I wish I could go to school here."
So do I, I thought. And a dream was planted. We continued that conversation about what a school might look like at Chestnut Ridge. A school focused on learning largely outdoors, by experience, and alongside caring educators.
I'd like to have gone to school at a place like that.
Chestnut Ridge calls forth dreams I would never have imagined on my own. The people, the space, and programs, they all speak to me of the gift of time and a place to grow, to discover ourselves, each other, and the world we share. Every day, this space and community transforms lives in remarkable ways.
The thought that young boy shared has sparked a new dream: The School at Chestnut Ridge.
At the moment, it's a fledging dream. But, I can see how a school might fit into the overall mix of life at Chestnut Ridge. The forest, the lake, and the bog lend themselves to scientific exploration and discovery. The challenge course and a plethora of initiative games suggest a focus on good relationship skills and character. The gardens and animals lend themselves to teaching skills of a bygone era, one which must be resurrected in part if we have any hope of feeding ourselves and our communities in a sustainable manner. Dramas and language. Art and music. Service learning and outdoor education. Learning primarily through experience and hands-on activities.
It makes my educator's heart thump wildly to think about the possibility of a community of learning at Chestnut Ridge. A place where school wouldn't feel like school, but rather a boundless invitation to learn and grow.
So, dream with this young boy, with me, and with others. What would this school look like? What would it take to move from dream to reality? How might this fledging dream take flight?
Last Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching from Acts 4. At this point in Luke's narrative of the early church, Pentecost is a historical event and groups of believers are moving from word to deed, from belief to faith. (That is how I understand faith - living our lives according to what we profess to believe). As I lived into Luke's words, I found myself lingering and returning to one phrase: "All the believers were one in heart and mind." For real? At first I wondered if Luke might be just a bit prone to exaggeration.
Being of one heart and mind sounds a bit dreamy to me, but Luke reports to us that this kind of solidarity - brought about by a common belief in the resurrection of Christ - is a mark of the early Christian community. Maybe it didn't last very long, but at least for a moment, unity marked the community of believers.
As I've lived with these words, long after the sermon, I realize how much unity, even in diversity, defines the community at Chestnut Ridge. Persons who work, volunteer, and visit here come from a variety of social, economic, educational, and even spiritual places. Yet, here in this special place, we are unified as we live together, be it for a few hours, a few days, or a few years.
What is it that draws us together? It is the belief that the resurrection of Jesus makes a difference in how we live our lives. That is to say, we're all trying to enact our common belief. Without exception, we believe that God is capable of breaking into our lives and changing us and our world.
That is what I see here every day. A child who realizes on the challenge course that listening is more important than talking. A middle schooler who experiences a moment of "awe" that didn't require any batteries. A high schooler who realizes that their identity is not given to them by their peers, but is in truth deeply rooted in Christ. A college student who believes that social justice means we need to consider the needs of others ahead of ourselves. A summer team so qualified they could choose any number of ways to spend their summer, yet they choose to spend it in service to children, youth, each other, and God. Adults who leave renewed by spending time away, and return to the world stronger and more passionate.
We haven't perfected unity at Chestnut Ridge, but it is a worthy goal. To the extent that we find unity based on our belief in the resurrection of Jesus, the love of Christ is made visible in our midst. That folks, is what I believe Luke is talking about.