ALCOA, Tenn. -- When an opportunity to “dream big” for grant money was presented recently to United Methodist camps throughout the nation, the staffs of three Holston camps jumped right in with creative visions for ministry.
Camp Wesley Woods asked to revitalize its iconic lagoon, a showcase of outdoor activity where campers learn to fish and boat.
Camp in the Community asked for a mobile planetarium, new van and trailer, and other equipment to teach science, technology, engineering, art, math, and music to children.
Camp Dickenson asked for help from experts to plan new programs and campus updates to propel ministry into the next decade.
On March 18, all three camps learned that 100 percent of their requests were approved, a total of more than $124,000 in grants from the United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries Association (UMCRM).
“I can’t believe it. We just shot for the moon,” said Whitney Winston, director of Camp in the Community. “We’ve all been through a long and hard stretch … and this news is energizing.”
Camp in the Community received $85,000, Dickenson received $24,000, and Wesley Woods received $15,000 for their individual projects. The Holston camp projects were three among 86 total projects funded throughout the nation with a $2.5 million anonymous gift, according to Jen Burch, UMCRM Association administrator.
“The family foundation that provided the grant has asked to remain anonymous,” Burch said.
The goal of the gift was to “enable individual sites and ministries to take one significant step in the 2022 calendar year toward long-term impact and sustainability,” according to a UMCRM Association press release.
Tony Lea, Wesley Woods director, said the $15,000 grant will restore the lagoon, which has been filling up with silt from an eroded, upstream section of the Capshaw Branch, causing the lagoon to become more shallow each year.
“The lagoon is one of the first things you see when you arrive at camp,” Lea said. “That’s where the ‘wow’ comes through. There are so many people who have told me, ‘That’s where I caught my first fish,’ or ‘That’s where I learned to canoe.’ … It’s been 15 to 20 years since the lagoon was maintained so we need to dredge and clean it up.”
The $15,000 grant will be used to cover costs from environmental and engineering consulting, permitting, dredging, prevention of future runoff and a portion of the required matching funds for later phases, according to the grant application, which was prepared by Office Manager Elizabeth Bradshaw.
Lea’s goal is to have the dredging complete by the first day of camp on June 5. For the second, more costly phase of the project – to repair Capshaw Branch to minimize further runoff into the lagoon – Wesley Woods will seek donations, state and federal grants, and consultation to develop a plan over the next six to 18 months. Wesley Woods is located in Townsend, Tennessee.
The $85,000 received by Camp in the Community will fund a “Mobile STEAM Lab” for day campers in multiple communities across Holston Conference. “STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art, math – and we’re adding music in there, too,” said Winston.
The grant will buy a 20-foot enclosed trailer and 15-passenger van for Camp in the Community, adding a new set of wheels to the “aging fleet” currently in heavy use by the mobile camp. Other purchases will include a 3-D printer, music garden, light table and clear easel.
“The goal is for it to be mostly open ended, where children can explore, play, have fun and learn without realizing they’re learning,” Winston said. Camp in the Community’s first day of the summer season is June 6.
Located in Fries, Virginia, Camp Dickenson will receive $24,000 to work with a consulting firm to complete a comprehensive strategic planning and site master plan update.
Director Anthony Gomez explained that a prior master plan for Dickenson, created in 2005, “needs to reflect our current world, ministry, and the needs of our community.”
Dickenson’s ministry currently includes summer camp, group retreats, and an RV camp. Gomez said the consulting firm will help Dickenson’s leaders “find exciting new program options for folks to come to camp for the next generation.” The grant enables Dickenson and Run River Consulting to begin the vision process now, continuing into fall 2022.
The first day of summer camp for Dickenson is June 12.
The Rev. Mary Thompson, executive director for Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries, said she was “ecstatic” to learn of grants awarded to three of the five camps she oversees.
“Receiving these grant funds will enable exciting new projects and affirms that our Holston camps are still thriving and succeeding in our mission to share the love of Christ in the glory of creation,” Thompson said.
Did you like this story? Sign up for a free weekly subscription to The Call. Holston Conference includes 850 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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