The Jesus way: Camp shalom 2016
Ben Carlson first came to Camp Shalom as a middle-schooler. He’s been back every year – in one way or another – ever since.
He had his fair share of mischief and camper capers. Then he became an assistant counselor. He moved up to counselor. Then he served in the wild blue yonder as Outpost director (the Outpost is the more primitive area of camp for older kids).
Ben is now out of college, with a major in history and a secondary teacher’s license. He’ll be leading campers this year as program director.
His favorite part of camp?
“Being able to see kids who show up nervous and uncomfortable, but by about Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, they are just as comfortable as staff,” he said. “Parents come to pick up and wonder ‘what happened to my kid?’ It happens every single week.”
A Camp Shalom Celebration will be held Sunday, March 6, St. Paul Lutheran Church, 3:30-5 p.m., with a dessert reception at 4:30 p.m. The afternoon will include singing, campers and staff speaking about their experiences, and a camp-style worship. It is free and open to the public.
To register for camp, visit campshalomia.org.
40 years of ministry
The history of Camp Shalom – located near Maquoketa, Iowa – begins with St. Paul, which purchased the land for a camp 40 years ago, in 1976. Originally called “St. Paul Outdoor Ministry Center,” it primarily served youth of the congregation. A master plan was formed to provide a vision of the future. Volunteers labored to turn the rough farmland into a campsite. They constructed cabins, cleared trails, cooked meals, and created a summer program.
In 1982, St. Paul Lutheran raised money to build the program center. This building continues to be the hub of camp life.
Around this time, St. Paul Lutheran held a contest to rename the camp. A young camper won the contest with the name Shalom, a Hebrew word meaning peace. Commonly used as a greeting, it can also mean the kind of peace only God can give.
By 1995, many of the buildings from the master plan were in place, but summer camp was very small. The people of St. Paul felt that the sole ownership of Camp Shalom was limiting the camp’s potential. Therefore, in 1996, Camp Shalom incorporated as an independent ecumenical ministry.
This initiative proved to be instrumental in the maturing of Camp Shalom. While initial growth came from Roman Catholic congregations, later increases have come from other denominations and the larger community. Today, more than 1,100 youth and adults from over 110 different congregations in the Quad-City area support Camp Shalom. St. Paul will give $30,000 to support Camp Shalom in 2016, as well as $2,000 for scholarships.
Every child is welcome at Camp Shalom without regards to race, gender, creed, or national origin.
Songs. Games. Crafts. Cabins. Gathering around a fire. Camp is known for lots of zany fun. But there’s something deeper that kids gain when they spend time at summer camp.
“I’m in awe of what the staff members do – especially watching them work with kids who have challenging behaviors,” said Tom Bley, executive director.
What do kids gain at camp?
An identity: Kids are often defined by their looks, material stuff, parents, grades, and athleticism. Camp allows kids to be known for being a great archer, team player, cannonball jumper, friend, s’mores maker, table setter, frog catcher, and much more.
An emotionally safe environment: Children need a supportive environment where they can mess up and it’s OK. They need somewhere they can miss the bullseye and no one laughs. Instead, their friends give them pointers on how to do better next time.
A chance to be a kid: They can shoot a bow and arrow, dress silly, eat candy, paint pictures, play games, and go on adventures.
An opportunity to be outside: To grow emotionally, physically, and mentally – kids need time outside. As time with phones, computers, tablets, and video games grows, it has never been more important for kids to have substantial time outdoors.
Friends: There is something about people living together, praying together, playing together, and overcoming challenges together that creates long-lasting friendships.
Mentors: Camp provides children with amazing, college-age counselors who truly care about them and want them to be the best version of themselves.
“Camp Shalom really is a place where kids can be themselves,” Ben said.
The future of camp
It’s no secret that families have lots of choices for summer activities. Camp Shalom is working to engage with kids and families throughout the year – taking camp to where they are.
For example, Camp Shalom staff visited St. Paul in early January and led sessions of games and singing during Sunday school. They also visited a North Scott elementary school to lead team building activities.
The hope is to have so many kids coming to camp that every single session is filled to capacity, Tom said.
“We compete with extracurricular activities – dance, choir, jobs, sports. Kids have so many things going on. How can we fit into their lives?” Tom said. “Camp Shalom gives kids an opportunity to play, relax, and run around. It’s intentional downtime.”
A few changes are in store for this year – a therapy dog will be visiting during the week, one staff member will be designated as the archery director. A faith formation leader will guide fellow staff members on instilling important lessons of faith with campers (anyone who’s been to camp recently will recognize the name GG).
And as always, any kid is welcome – no matter their ability to pay. “I will not turn down a campership,” Tom said. “We will help the family through the process so that every single kid has an opportunity to experience Camp Shalom.”