The sidewalks of the junior high are decorated with sidewalk chalk welcoming campers to day camp in Beecher, Illinois, a small town an hour south of Chicago. One hundred and twenty campers, with their parents and guardians, are greeted at the door by counselors in training (CITs) making a cheering tunnel for people to walk through as they enter SpringHill day camp. SpringHill summer leaders welcome campers to their cabin groups by learning all of their names and organizing games, such as Connections, to begin the fun of day camp immediately. To play Connections, one camper names something about themselves (e.g., “I like hotdogs”) and others say if they have that thing in common. The campers take the opportunity to get to know each other, get comfortable, and get silly at day camp.
Day camp in Beecher is a major annual event for Faith Church and the Beecher community. The list of people, community partners and businesses that support day camp is extensive. The local grocery store (Walt’s), the fire department, the junior high, and seemingly countless congregational members donate food, time, space, finances, housing and prayers to ensure that day camp happens. An emergency medical technician (EMT) is at day camp all week, compliments of the fire department. This is an added bonus for the lucky EMT, as his kids and wife are also spending the week at day camp. Local businesses donate food for the SpringHill staff members and volunteers each day to make sure that people are fed.
The pastor of Faith Church shows around a congregational member who donated generously to camper scholarships. He seems impressed by the activity and noise of the campers running around the building. One adult volunteer shared, “We are blessed by the community and we enjoy blessing the community.” Faith Church is proud to bring a big, fun, kid-focused week of day camp to Beecher. Kids are invited not only from the congregation, but also from the community to participate. Since Faith Church’s property is not large enough to host all of SpringHill’s activities and campers, they partner with the local junior high to use the entire building for the day camp week. Even the mayor of Beecher is scheduled to close out the week and witness the joy of the campers. Considering the complexity of the day camp that SpringHill facilitates with Faith Church, it really takes the Beecher community to make the week a success.
When SpringHill shows up in Beecher, the large trailer and activities inside of it are hard to miss when driving by the junior high. There is a mobile rock wall, obstacle course inflatables, water inflatables, a Gaga pit, and more. The energy and excitement that the SpringHill staff members bring are complemented by the activities they facilitate with the campers in their cabins. Kids run, climb, crawl, throw and play with novel elements that SpringHill brings to the town.
On the mobile rock wall, a camper in a harness looks warily at the imposing structure. To bolster his courage, he loops two SpringHill stuffed animal “huggers” around his neck and then checks with the counselor to see if he can start the climb. After the exchange of commands that indicate he can begin, he slowly finds hand and footholds as he cautiously scales the wall. At the midway point, his frustration becomes clear and he descends down the wall. His counselor walks over to check in on how he is doing. They chat for a bit about his struggle to make it to the top and the counselor encourages him to try again. Checking that the stuffed animals are still securely attached, the camper takes a deep breath and agrees that he wants to try the wall again. This time there is a little more determination in the way that the camper grips the wall as he climbs to the point he reached before. With shouts of encouragement from his counselor and cabin group, he creeps past his previous summit and continues to the top. “Beep beep!” goes the bell at the top of the rock wall and the camper is cheered by the people supporting him from below.
Campers like the rock wall climber are not the only beneficiaries of day camp with SpringHill. More than 20 adult and parent volunteers from Faith Church enjoy day camp as a time for connecting with kids and each other in ways that do not always happen during the rest of the year. There are new connections made and relationships built amongst congregational members at day camp who otherwise attend church at different times. The songs and movements from day camp are absorbed by the adults and then incorporated into the children’s ministry programs back at Faith Church. This helps continue the high levels of energy from SpringHill day camp throughout the rest of the year. They take pride in preparing and serving the donated food for the SpringHill staff so that they can be focused on the campers. Adults and parents share that they find enjoyment and value with their time at day camp, therefore many return year after year and change responsibilities to keep day camp going.
The community of Beecher is relatively small with about 4,500 people, yet when SpringHill day camp happens, it feels like the entire community shows up with Faith Church. The focus is on the kids who attend day camp enjoying the adventure and excitement of all of the activities. At the same time, the community both serves and is served by SpringHill’s day camp with many helping hands working and connecting to bring it all together.