“For you belong to Youth Camp, and Youth Camp belongs to you.”

When I was 8 years old, my brother, sister, and I spent a week out at Van Buren Youth Camp. I never, in a million years, would have believed how much I have gained from my association with this place. It was a place where I didn’t have anything to prove. I could be just me.

Back in the 60’s, kids went to camp from the surrounding towns and small communities. It seemed like it was always full of campers with some kind of goal to achieve. Many lifelong contacts and friends were made and who knew I would still be in touch with most today?

In the 70’s, WMU and UM sponsored Student Leadership Workshops there, and the venue and influx of kids from all over the state meshed together to create an unprecedented week of growth and introspection for all. There were many tears when Friday night came along. To grow so much in a week’s time was almost too much to bear. Knowing you were forever changed was part of the magic you would take forward within you, for the rest of your life.

Let’s face it. Some people are not meant to rough it. I really would prefer the nearest motel when it comes to camping. But, the thing is, I have watched and witnessed miracles happen out at Camp. I planned our 5th Grade Camp experiences for many years out at VBYC and often have students share memories about our fun times there.

The thing is, and I really believe this of the entire program out there, social emotional learning is the foundation of whatever is planned or evaluated. Oh it looks like fun and games, and that is what they want you to think, but it is actually so much more. Kids are taught about the environment by taking care of areas they use. They must learn to live in a “cabin group” which, in turn, shows them how to reach out to others. The belonging and pride of challenges accomplished as being part of that group, will forever be positively ingrained in their brains. . Leading other campers in song, or planning a skit, or envisioning an amazing story and acting it out, are all crucial steps to the confidence and well-being of being an okay person; one who is accepted without condition. That is rare in our society today.

My own daughters grew up loving Van Buren Youth Camp. They choose to share the skills they have honed to serve others in their respective lines of work as adults. Most of the alums from VBYC are those who have a true mission: TO LEAD IS TO SERVE.

I am proud to say that Nayt Hiemstra and I will be sharing the Assistant Director position this summer. You see, we both would love to be on our yachts in the Caribbean but he said it best the other day when he said: “I just can’t say no to this because Camp has given me so much.”

In these days of social media, school shootings, bullying, video games, and the like, I can’t help but ask myself: What can I do to make a difference? Where and when were these values rooted deeply into my core? The answer is: I learned a lot of it at Camp.

Oh, you could spend thousands and send your kids to places around the globe. Your kids may tons of stamps on their passports, belong to elite clubs, spend their summers lolling in the country club pool….but my money is on a place that levels everyone’s playing field and allows them to be authentically who they are meant to be.

You see, there is magic in the soul of every person. It is this place that allows it to be brought forth.

Thanks for listening.

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