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Unplugged and United: Exploring the Transformative Benefits of Family Camp

Apr 9, 2024 | Camp Programs, Family Ministry, Parenting

According to the American Camp Association, The number of family camps have doubled over the last 15 years

In 2022, The Skit Guys released the movie, Family Camp. That same year, I published my memoir about my family’s experience at Deer Valley YMCA Family Camp, Family Camp: S’more Than a Vacation. Every week I read how traditional childhood camps are opening up a weekend or week to families.

I know that camp creates lifelong values. My family camped for decades and we have thrived from our experience. I also know that camping offers a unique blend of adventure, bonding, and relaxation for families of all shapes and sizes. So, how did my camp and my family create the magic or secret sauce that makes for success?

This is where the project titled, Rhythms of Faith, managed by Sacred Playgrounds steps in. Generously funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., they seek to quantify what is working. My fellow campers and I always stated we wished we could replicate the family camp spirit into the outside world. With the ongoing conversations and research, driven by the Sacred Playground team, they’re working to quantify why partnerships such as the one between family camps and families work.

In my experience of 30+ years of attending Deer Valley YMCA Family Camp as a daughter in my family, then as a wife and mother, here is what I’ve learned.

Diversity

The families at my family camp range from nuclear, single-parent households and multi-generational clans. Programming that provides agency and caters to varying interests, ages, and abilities while maintaining traditional activities keeps everyone happy. There are age-specific activities, adult only events, family and team happenings. Whether it’s organizing family team games, adults night out, kids hayride, inclusive dining options, or accessible facilities, embracing diversity ensures that every family member feels valued and included in the camp experience.

Balancing Independence and Togetherness

Unlike traditional children’s camps where participants are primarily separated from their families, family camps emphasize shared experiences and quality time together. My camp balances fostering independence, family interactions, and community activities all within one day. Every day. Providing opportunities for both joint activities and individual pursuits allows families to create lasting memories while respecting personal boundaries and preferences. I get to swim in the lake, talk to a friend, read the book of the week, while my husband plays volleyball, paints ceramics, sails, and our now, adult children, reconnect with their friends.

Customized Programming

Families want to tailor their experience based on their interests and preferences. I shared a few of our favorite activities above. Every family is different. From outdoor adventures and team-building challenges to arts and crafts workshops and wellness sessions, offering a diverse array of activities ensures that families can curate their ideal itinerary. At my camp, anyone can request an activity and staff will do their best to accommodate a special interest. At the end of the week, there is a Coffee with the Director session so campers can learn about updates and provide feedback for refinement and enhancement as families and needs change.

Creating Community and Connection

At our camp, we gather on the office lawn at check in to reacquaint ourselves with the other families and staff. We are encouraged to cultivate an inclusive environment by welcoming new campers and new family members. We break bread with one another at our first meal and then share in a communal gathering at the lake. There are so many opportunities to gather and connect on a deeper level, forming bonds that extend beyond the campfire. When we depart on the last day, there are tears from kids and adults as we say our farewells until next summer.

Embracing the Outdoors

Of course I think Deer Valley Family Camp is beautiful. There is a lovely lake surrounded by the forest. In this immersive outdoor setting our phones are set aside and we escape the hustle and bustle of daily life. We hike, kayak, play volleyball, stargaze, play cards, engage in nature-based educational programs, read, and nap. Plus more if you want. Embracing the outdoors fosters a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world.

In Conclusion

Family camp is my family’s chance to disconnect from the distractions of modern life and reconnect with one another amidst the beauty of nature. Our camp directors immerse themselves in camp alongside us. From a shared milkshake in the snack bar, to joining a volleyball team, to singing a silly song at campfire night, they have the ability to create enriching family camp experiences that leave a lasting impact on participants for years to come.
Their work has impacted this family and I thank them for that.

Meet Maria

Maria Warner is an author based in Arizona with one published book and additional featured short stories and articles. Her memoir focuses on themes of love, loss, and self-discovery. In her free time, she enjoys being outside in the mountains and spending time with her family, friends, and adorable shih tsu’s.

Maria Warner grew up in The City of Champions, Pittsburgh. She has also lived in Florida, Michigan, Toronto, and New Jersey. She never lost her love for the Pennsylvania wilderness, which inspired her first book, Family Camp S’more than a Vacation. In addition to writing, Maria’s daily practices include reading, exercising, volunteering, and being in nature.

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