Over the last few years you may have noticed back country ski supplies included on BBC’s wish list. Tuna scours the fall ski swaps and often returns with poles and boots to add to BBC’s collection. Last winter’s registration form included a box to mark interest in skiing the back country of BBC! In 2017 Tuna and GiGi led campers into the snow covered forrest on skis.
A long time snow camper Nick Champine enjoys having fun skiing with Tuna and other campers and having the freedom to go anywhere. He says, “The hills are fun! It’s different than skiing at a resort because you have to go uphill in order to go down and there are less people.” He’s looking forward to learning more this winter.
The development of a back country ski program at BBC Winter Camps allows campers to try their hand at a new skill while enjoying the beautiful winter scenery. Tuna has teamed up with a local telemark teacher, John Tidd, to provide instruction to adults who may have interest in helping campers learn how to ski safely in the back country. If you have interest in volunteering at snow camps in this way contact Tuna (brandon at bethanybirches.org)
The summer of 2017 was the most attended summer in the history of BBC. Praise God! Well over 400 campers came over the course of 7 weeks of summer camp. Serving this many campers required that we also have one of the largest staff teams in the camp’s history. Many different marketing events, individuals, and advertisements helped to make this summer’s registration so momentous. I also believe that campers wouldn’t come (and keep coming!) if it weren’t for the impact camp has on them.
A small group of campers (and staff) were impacted this summer by a new week- long program. The Expedition week was created to be an adventure-based program for a small group of middle school campers. This backpacking-based program provided a unique and powerful atmosphere for campers to find each other and God.
The group of 10 campers and three staff spent their first day at camp focused on team building to prepare themselves for the three-day overnight backpacking trip during the 2nd half of the week. Because this was designed to be a smaller group, campers quickly built meaningful relationships with their counselors and each other. Mim “Sully” Beck, an expedition counselor, describes how those relationships were built:
“One of the best parts of the week was being able to interact so closely with the group of campers and other counselors. We quickly became well acquainted and comfortable around each other as we learned how to pack our bags and cook our food. Even before we left for the trip, we found ourselves bonding while shouting out-of-tune camp songs at the tree houses. Multiple times on the trip we found ourselves laughing and playing games or telling riddles to keep ourselves entertained. One of the most profound experiences on the trail was when we reached the Killington summit. Relaxing in God’s presence after a day of hiking had a positive impact on all of us.”
Current culture has made it easy for most Middle Schoolers to miss out on nature-focused activities. Kids, instead, experience the world behind the glass of their mobile devices and other screens. BBC has always sought to help “human life, wild life and plant life coexist in harmony (statement from original bylaws).” One of the other counselors on this trip, Erin “Corgi” Beidler, describes how campers met God during the week: “Sitting around the camp stove eating freeze-dried chili our group had some of the best conversations. From playing charades to discussing faith the group was open to sharing their experiences. I remember one discussion in particular when we were talking about Moses leading the Israelites out into the wilderness. God gave them just enough manna to survive for that day but no more. We discussed how through the challenge of the hike and whatever challenges life brings God can give each of us enough of what we need to get through. I saw God so much during the three days of hiking. Campers were so willing to share and help each other through the challenges of the hike. I truly believe that being together in such a demanding environment helped the group grow closer to each other, to nature, and to God.”
The impact of this session on campers (and staff) was clear. Expedition will return next year. If you know a 12-14-year-old who would benefit from an experience like this, please encourage them to sign up!
In a society preoccupied with STUFF consider giving the gift of an experience this Christmas.
PARENTS: planning to send your camper to camp this winter or summer? Consider giving them camp for Christmas! You can use the form on this page to get them signed up easily and will get a card to give your child too: bethanybirches.org/xmas
SUPPORTERS: Perhaps your loved ones don’t need any more things. Give them the gift of knowing a child is being nurtured spiritually, physically and emotionally. Make a contribution using the form on this page (bethanybirches/givecamp) and we’ll email you a Christmas card you can place in a loved one’s stocking Christmas morning!
The Bethany Birches Camp experience teaches many things. Some campers learn how to shoot a bow and arrow, some learn how to cook food over a fire while others uncover gifts God has given them. Learning at camp isn’t limited to campers. Bev Goshow (AKA Grandma Cookie Dough Chaos – that’s her camp name) thought she was coming for one week of serving in the kitchen back in 2010. Seven summers later she is retiring as the camp shepherd for BBC’s youngest campers. Thank you Grandma Cookie Dough Chaos for being open to how God would use you. The following paragraphs are Grandma’s reflections on her path to becoming a camp shepherd at BBC.
~ Amber “Cheeks” Bergey, Volunteer Coordinator & Day Camp Director
As a child I loved attending Camp Sankanac in Spring City, Pa. At that time I was unaware of the seed being planted and nourished. Fast forward to 2010. My husband Dave (aka Woodchip) and I volunteered one week at BBC. I was helping in the old kitchen. When I wasn’t in the kitchen I enjoyed Fireside and soon found myself actively singing with the kids. I’m not sure what happened to me that week. I found myself going down the slip n slide laughing the entire way while campers chanted “Grandma! Grandma! Grandma!”
Before leaving camp, Amber (aka Cheeks) identified one of my gifts as loving children and invited me to be the shepherd the following year. She told me to pray about it. I told her I wouldn’t! I was afraid of what God was calling me to do! My husband Dave felt differently. Dave said right away, “She’ll do it.” He then turned to me and said “You’ll be great at this! It’s right up your alley.”
Preparing for the first year of shepherding brought a lot of anxiety. I had no formal education to do this job. I was just a willing helper. I was fearful the counselors would correct one of my Bible stories! Nothing like that happened. I prayed God would be present and this was for HIM, not Bev. I LOVED my new role!
The highlight of shepherding over the last few years was to share about a loving God and the way of Jesus with 6 to 9 year old campers. I had the total attention of campers when telling them the Bible stories in flannelgraph! You usually could hear a pin drop – even with 84 active kids!
One of the memories that stands out was when I shared the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. Quietly the children filed passed me as I gave them bread and fish (Swedish) and told them Jesus loves them. It was so reverent and peaceful. I cried like a baby as the last child went through.
As a camp shepherd I always had one goal: to plant seeds for children to know Jesus as their personal savior and to nourish those seeds in whatever way possible.
Dot Samsi was a parent/volunteer last summer (2017) at BBC. She agreed to reflect on her experience for the 2017 fall newsletter. Check out family – friendly – no – previous – experience – required – volunteer opportunities for 2018 here.
Camp has been a part of my life since I was a kid in Ohio. Every summer I went away for a week. When I came home covered in mosquito bites, I would write letters to my camp friends and impatiently check our mailbox for their responses. After college I got to work at camp for a summer that turned into a year and a half. My husband and I even got married at that camp and had our reception in the dining hall! Once our kids were old enough, they joined the fun by coming to Mom & Me camp.
Since leaving Ohio several years ago, camp hadn’t been part of our lives but I knew that I wanted camp to be part of our kids’ lives. When we moved to New England, we heard about Bethany Birches from some friends. Then two years ago we made the 120 mile trip to camp for the first time. We dropped the kids off on the mountain for Launch Half. Two days later we picked up exhausted campers who had had a great time!
This past summer I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. I asked if camp might need a volunteer and heard back from Amber that Bethany Birches loves volunteers! Yay! And it turns out, BBC can use plenty of volunteers. My daughter invited 2 friends and one of their moms, Amy, volunteered also. We all arrived ready to stay for the 2-night Launch Half program.
Amy and I both volunteered in the kitchen where Sparkles and Sharkbait put us right to work. Within a few minutes, we had gloves on our hands, bandannas on our heads, and we were serving dinner to hungry campers! We washed dishes, mopped floors, packed meal crates, and made huge amounts of apple crisp. We even got to make a grocery run for pig trough supplies!
As far as lodging, we brought our sleeping bags and we were ready to rough it, but we ended up staying in a really nice house up the street. It was more like glamping than camping and we had a good time getting to know the other volunteers. Looking for adventure, Amy and I slept out in the hammocks the last night. When we weren’t in the kitchen, we got to see some of the activities (now I know what a pig trough is all about!) and hear some of Grandma Cookie Dough’s firesides. We also got to do a little hiking. (The treehouses are amazing! I think that there may be a treehouse sleepout in my future!)
Volunteering at camp was such a welcome change of pace. The positive atmosphere, the beauty of God’s creation and the joy and enthusiasm of the campers and staff were so refreshing. Even with all the hard work, I came away feeling refreshed. I’m so glad that my family has found Bethany Birches. We can’t wait until next summer!
-Dot Samsi, 2017 Summer Camp Volunteer
Volunteers surround camper enjoying the pig trough
Summer and Winter Camps are the focus of Bethany Birches. A lot of people contribute to make camp happen. The BBC Board of Directors (BOD) is a group of 9 folks who think about the broader vision of BBC and where it’s heading into the future. Stacy Selbo is a member of the BOD. What follows are her reflections on how she got involved with BBC and what the Board is currently working on.
Our family moved to Vermont from Atlanta in 2004, and settled in Bridgewater in 2005. While we were active in our Atlanta church, our 3 boys also had meaningful, Christ-centered summer camp experiences from first grade until they could no longer be campers. We didn’t know what our Vermont experience would hold for our family spiritually, but shortly after being in the Woodstock, Bridgewater area, our youngest son had opportunities to visit Bethany Birches camp with the First Congregational Church of Woodstock Youth Group. We were thrilled to learn about this magical and special place just 15 minutes from our home!
Simultaneously, Amber (Cheeks) Bergey and I were involved in a women’s bible study with a small group from a variety of churches. It was a familiar connection and we stayed in touch. Then, I joined the Board in 2015.
The Board is active and meets throughout the year beginning with an annual retreat (January) to review and coordinate the direction of camp with Brandon. As a Board, our main focus is to consider the resourcefulness and sustainability of BBC, which continues to head in a very positive direction. Enrollment is up to nearly record attendance, thanks to proactive marketing and consistent fundraising. In 2017, BBC is debt free which is a remarkable accomplishment, with gratitude to Brandon for driving that goal.
While the Board continually reviews strategies, we are primarily focused and thoughtful about the spirituality that BBC represents and conveys to our campers – living the Mission.
I am especially thankful that an extraordinary camp like Bethany Birches exists here in the secular mountains of Vermont. What a special place for young people to learn about Christ!
Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Working at camp involves a lot of repetition, and as someone who generally revolts against rigid routines, sometimes I felt like I was going crazy. But somehow, beyond all my expectations, God met me in the repetition.
I came to camp expecting that I would meet God in some life-redefining way. In fact, that was one big reason I initially hesitated about working at BBC this summer ― I expected that I would meet God in some big way, and I was afraid of finding him like that. Because finding God meant that I would have to own up to a lot of things, and I did not want to spend the emotional energy, I guess. But I did not meet God, not in the way I thought, anyway, which fit in so well with our theme of “Expect the Unexpected.” No, he did not revealed himself to me in some flashy Damascus road moment. Instead, he pulled me gently back to him, one small moment at a time.
Every week, I repeated the same advice to my campers, heard the same Bible stories, sang the same songs, cooked the same food, did the same activities.
I knew what was coming next. In the logistical sense, I knew exactly what to expect.
Now, when you do something over and over again, and know you will keep doing it over and over again, you have two choices: you can either jade yourself to what you are doing, or you can look for new threads of meaning within the repetition.
I found myself handing out the same advice to my girls this summer, different campers, different ages, different situations. I told them how important it is to learn to love yourself, because if you dislike yourself, then loving your neighbor as you love yourself quickly derails into a nightmare. And by the fifth or sixth time that I heard those words coming out of my mouth, I realized, hey, maybe I should give my own advice a try.
And maybe after the 50th morning of singing that all God’s critters got a place in the choir, I could remember that that meant me, someone who has felt on the outside for a while, not sure of her place in the choir or if she wants to sing at all.
And maybe by the seventh time hearing that God’s best friend Moses killed a man would it actually sink in that, hey, God might want to be best friends with me, too, someone who has not killed anything but maybe some mosquitos.
I usually look for God in the strange, unfamiliar places. I can see him working best when I am outside of my comfort zone. I like to go on adventures, push myself, find weird new places to explore, and hope to bump into God along the way.
But this summer, I learned to look for him in the small, quiet moments, in the spider crawling up my leg, in the curious eyes of children, in the encouragement of fellow staff, in the silly song lyrics.
God knows what we need more than we know for ourselves. He knows I can be skittish, he knows I am stubborn, but he also knows how much I delight in small moments of beauty, and he used that understanding to give me what I needed: a gentle push in a better direction that, with enough encouragement, will eventually lead me home.
As I have settled back into the repetition of my life away from camp, into my college routine, I catch myself thinking about camp a lot. I find I am craving the outdoors, craving rain showers and cast-iron griddles and grease fires and charcoal hand prints on my legs, craving the company of children, craving the peace I found on the hill ― these things that separately I can replicate anywhere, but that all together create something beautiful, something powerful, something unique to Bethany Birches.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to work at Bethany Birches, and I am looking forward to returning next summer, ready to embrace the unexpected from day one.
Liesl “Kiki” Graber
2017 BBC Summer Counselor
This summer was the most attended summer in the history of BBC. Praise God! We had well over 400 camper weeks throughout the seven weeks of summer. These high numbers required that we also have one of the largest staff teams in the camp’s history. Many different marketing events, individuals, and advertisements helped to make this summer’s registration so momentous, but I also believe that campers wouldn’t come (and keep coming!) if it weren’t for the ways camp impacts them.
Camp is uniquely powerful in the lives of children for many different reasons. One of the most important reasons, I believe, is the connection between camper and counselor. During the school year children spend 99% of their time with peers (fellow students) and with older adults (parents/teachers). Peers are easy for them to connect with, but often not much of a role model. Adults can be great role models, but difficult to make powerful connections with. Young, maturing, 20-something counselors help bridge that gap. They are fun to be with and people the campers can look up to. Many campers, in fact, realize that they too can grow up to be like these counselors some day. Liesl was an excellent example this summer. In the paragraphs that follow she shares her experiences this summer and you can see that while she made a real impact in the lives of her campers God also used BBC to make a real impact in her own life.
I’ve been reflecting on summer highlights lately despite the recent cold temps and skiing at nearby recently opened VT resorts and the 3 weeks of Day Camp was definitely a highlight.
Are there parents who will drive their kid to BBC each day for a week? Are 5 year olds old enough to cook meals over the fire and run around outside most of the day? Are there any past counselors who want to volunteer a week at day camp? Will daylong program aid in reaching BBC’s mission of helping young people develop their relationship with God?
The answers to the first 3 questions above seem to be a resounding YES! And hopefully as the years go on we’ll find the answer to the last question to be yes too.
Day camp returned to BBC in 2016 after a 12 year hiatus! 18 campers attended over the course of 3 different weeks. In 2017 that number climbed to 35 campers over the course of 3 weeks. Parents are willing to drive their kids up Lynds Hill for a daylong experience. One camper dad commented that he loves the fact that his son gets to spend all day outside. Another mom mentioned hoping this experience would prepare her son for overnight camp. A different camper parent was psyched she could jump start her son’s BBC experience as she has fond memories of her own BBC experience. And still another camper parent values the faith-based emphasis she always finds at Bethany Birches.
Each day camp week included traditional favorites at BBC. First time campers were exuberant to be eating ice cream out of the pig trough. Others enjoyed being launched on the trampoline or taking their first stab at kayaking. Campers also enjoyed activities that encouraged them to make new friends (silly songs and teambuilding games) and soak in the creation around them (cooking over the fire and swimming in the pond). Each week had a different theme (A Bug’s Life, Making Music and Holiday Roundup) to help focus the activities and lessons for the week.
All of the above contributed to fun for day campers but it’s the staff that determines the experience for the campers. Part of the successful return of day camp must be attributed to veteran staff volunteering to return to counsel the youngest of BBC Campers. Max “Nye” Halik who has served in the role of camper, counselor, volunteer and assistant program director over the past 10 years describes why volunteering at day camp made sense to him.
“As a counselor Mini Week (Launch half) was always my favorite week of the summer partially because you find that five-year-olds tend to be happy to do just about anything outside. One of the harder parts with that Mini Week was the “overnight” part – comforting little kiddos that found it difficult to get through nights without parents. When I heard that I could volunteer at Day Camp, I thought it would be an awesome opportunity to hang out with kids that still have that same enthusiasm for literally *every* activity, but could engage in bite-sized portions that wouldn’t be overwhelming. I’ll come back for Day Camp week any time – particularly as a volunteer it’s easier to take off a week of work knowing that I’ll be able to have fun-filled days with the happiest children you can imagine, with calmer evenings to plan out how we can share the word of God with his littlest children.”
Three sessions of day camp are in the line up for Summer 2018 with the hopes that more parents will drive up the hill each day to give their kids an outdoor, faith based experience with veteran BBC Staff.
It’s been exactly 3 months and a day since I left Bethany Birches. I’d really like to say that the time has been flying by, but it hasn’t. I think since this past summer my life has become so fixated on looking forward to possibly serving next summer, that I’m still reliving every day as though I never left.
Apart from the fact that the faces of my fellow staff members are splattered all over my social media timelines, I realise that camp made an indelible mark on me. And no, it wasn’t the fact that there were bears rummaging through the garden I worked so hard on (ok well, one bear), or Susie-sized* rabbits hopping around Hummingbird and scaring my campers (because I refused to scream and embarrass myself), or even the fact that I had to pretend to be strolling through the Garden of Eden [to stay motivated] with every trip to every facility on the campsite because every direction was a 10-minute hike. I can’t say either that it was the rock-farming or getting stuck in the bathroom whilst waiting out a thunderstorm at 3am. But what I can say is, before Bethany Birches, I had never really found somewhere that I felt like I just ‘fit in’.
I was different in so many ways—my culture, my heritage and even the way I worship had nothing in common with Bethany Birches, and I never got a lot of the jokes either; yet, I found my place there. And despite the fact that I almost froze to death on occasion, or got trapped in almost every ‘Mission Impossible’, I can’t say I’d ever change any of my experiences. I have felt my heart literally bursting with love and acceptance of not only so many others, but even myself, and I think that has been the most rewarding thing about Bethany Birches for me. It isn’t often that one literally finds themselves by wandering off into the ‘unfamiliar’ (never do that at camp by the way)…But this summer did that for me. Coming from Jamaica to cold VT wasn’t comfortable but it helped me become more me.
RaeChelle-Faith “Artsy” Hamilton, BBC Counselor
*Susie is the director’s daughter; 1 year old this past summer
That’s right. A local church is in the process of installing solar for the energy needs of the church and is installing twice as much solar as they need. Heather Hawkes of Taftsville Chapel in Vermont says “the project specs for an 11.66kW solar array. We estimate that we will use about 5.3kW to meet our current energy needs at Taftsville Chapel.” The church has intentionally built an array almost twice as big as they needed so they could give green energy. Heather explains the choice like this: “We see caring for and restoring God’s good creation as a way to love God and love our neighbors.” The green movement is not just a social movement to the church but one of faith as well.