Putting down roots
St. Paul youth transform new Camp Shalom cabins with brushstrokes and paint.
In late January, a group of St. Paul youth packed their bags and art supplies and made the 42-mile drive to Maquoketa to spend the weekend creating artwork that will plant seeds and make Camp Shalom cabins feel a little more like home.
Camp Shalom Program Director Ben Carlson and St. Paul youth coordinator Liz Franks first came up with the idea near the end of last year when Liz first visited Camp Shalom. The two wanted to engage the youth program right away, not waiting until the summer, so an indoor art-related project seemed like the perfect fit. After multiple brainstorming sessions, the two settled on outfitting the new Camp Shalom cabins with artwork created by St. Paul youth.
Each piece of artwork is a 30” x 40” canvas representing a different tree that the Camp Shalom cabin is named after; mulberry, oak, cherry, maple, elm, aspen, and hickory. Inscribed on every canvas is a Bible verse.
“The cabins are pretty basic. Even though they’re new, they’re pretty simple. These pieces add that extra bit of pizzaz and bring a feeling of cabin unity,” Ben said. “They have Bible verses to inspire thoughtfulness and reflection when campers are in their cabins at night.”
Nearly every one of the participants has a strong connection with Camp Shalom. Three of the youth were camp counselors just last year and others are longtime campers.
“These kids love and care about Camp Shalom, more than just about anybody. Being able to contribute something that will hang up for the next 20 years, that’s a tangible contribution of the impact they’ll make as a counselor and camper,” Ben said. “We’re so grateful that Liz brought the kids to do this. St. Paul helped contribute to the cost of the artwork as well. We’re grateful that the kids take an interest and ownership in Camp Shalom. It adds to the experience of camp for future campers.”
St. Paul artistic director Lauren Brown designed the canvas trees and created an easy paint-by-number outline so anyone of any artistic background could partake. But the youth and adults on the trip took ownership and made each piece their own. While the original plan was for each person to contribute to every canvas, the youth decided they wanted to work on just one from start to finish.
Tenth grader Jonathan Bergert was one of the youth that participated in the retreat weekend. He said the weekend provided a lot of bonding with fellow youth and a chance to make something of their own to share with others.
“I was going outside of my comfort zone. I don’t paint much so it was fun to try to make a painting. I did better than I thought I would. At first, everyone was filling in the colors, following the rules,” Jonathan said. “But after a while, we all put in our own ideas and made them our own. Connor (DeNike) went with a space theme. The chaperones went with an autumn color scheme. Mine was a dark sky theme with stars. Mary added flowers and birds. We all put our own personality into it.”
The retreat just happened to be an extra special time for Jonathan. It was the weekend of his 16th birthday. And while birthday weekends are often special events spent with those closest to you, Jonathan decided to celebrate his birthday being of service to others and among new friends.
“Going into the retreat, I was unsure of what the weekend would be like. Good friendships were made,” Jonathan said. “I met and got to know others better. Connor DeNike and I connected during that weekend. We found out we have a lot in common. Everyone made my birthday weekend special with surprise cupcakes and treats.”
For the Blackwells, this retreat was quite a family affair. Amira and her older sister Adrianna were joined by their mom Cherie. The Blackwell sisters have spent many summers at Camp Shalom so it feels a little like a home away from home. The retreat was a more intimate gathering than they’re used to and the time together was impactful. Amira said her favorite parts of the weekend were the activities that connected her with other St. Paul youth.
“It was a great group in a place I really like. It was special to be together and be of service to others,” Amira said. “The most memorable activity was sledding. We spent a lot of time inside painting but there were activities that brought us outside. Being out in the snow and nighttime stargazing were times we all forgot about outside things, and could focus on being together.”
Amira’s mom Cherie was one of the chaperones on the trip and commented on the important role Camp Shalom has played in her daughters’ lives.
“Camp Shalom holds a very special place in a lot of the kids’ hearts. A combination of camp and St. Paul has formed their faith. The most meaningful experience was being in that environment together and making new memories,” Cherie said. “The craziness and music of camp have engaged the girls to want to continue to participate. Camp Shalom and the St. Paul youth programming have supported both Amira and Adrianna in their development, especially as leaders.”