CAMPERS play a game of Frisbee at the Pilgrim Center. submitted photo
by Hannah Tetzlaff
On different ends of Big Green Lake, Pilgrim Center, Camp Grow and the Green Lake Conference Center (GLCC) share this in common:
All are local summer ministry sites where kids and families feel right at home.
“I can walk into a youth camp or quilting retreat or whatever and know most of the people there,” Pilgrim Center Camp Director Mike Klemp-North said. “And they know me and they know our staff and they know our families, so that gives them a sense that this is theirs. [The visitors say] ‘We don’t want to go home,’ but in a way they think they are home.”
The Pilgrim Center, W1010 Spring Grove Road in Ripon, offers summer camp programs for all ages and interests.
The camps range from youth camps — starting with first grade all the way to senior high — to specialized camps like Camp AweSum, which supports kids and families with Autism.
According to Klemp-North, one of the better attended camps is the “& Me” series which encompasses camps like “Mom & Me” or “Grandparent & Me.” The “& Me” camps are only half a week and are great for one-on-one family bonding.
Out of the summer programs, Klemp-North noted the most unique is the PilgrimCon, which is a camp where fandoms of science fiction, fantasy, comics and other genres can share their passion and interests while also connecting them to scripture.
Fandoms consist of “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “The Hunger Games,” “The Avengers” and many more.
“These are the kids that unfortunately some of them can’t talk about it at school,” Klemp-North said. “It isn’t a cool thing to talk about or be, and yet when they’re here, they’ll come down to the dining hall in costumes and they’re totally accepted. There’s some jealousy that some [campers] brought costumes and others forgot…
“These are the kids that leave knowing they have a year to come back because it is such a safe place for them and they know that there are others of them in the world.”
Pilgrim Center isn’t the only camp where kids can feel safe and be who they are without any fear.
Camp Grow, W2580 Oakwood Beach Road in Markesan, also has an impact on campers.
“I heard that a lot over the last three summers, of first timers coming back and parents sending in letters and phone calls saying they can see a difference [in their kids] from just that one week,” Camp Grow Director Nick Radcliffe said. “Kids leave here having more faith or wanting to learn more about God.”
Camp Grow’s available camps are youth camps — such as Trailblazers (third to fourth grade), Explorers (sixth to ninth grade) and Senior High.
There also are family camps and specialized training camps known as “Leadership Development Camp and Discipleship Adventure,” which are for those in high school who want to go deeper in their walk and who wish to become part of the staff someday.
During Senior High week, Camp Grow hosts a banquet for campers. While the high schoolers spend a fun day at the GLCC, the summer ministry team decorates the dining hall according to the theme chosen that year.
Last year’s theme was a hoe-down. When the campers come back from their day trip, they dress in their best formal wear and are then waited on hand-and-foot by the camp staff.
Besides special events like the Senior High Banquet, campers may enjoy the many activities of their choice.
Activities include archery, field sports, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, biking, swimming, tubing, water skiing, wake boarding, drama, dance class, music class, arts and crafts and the low-ropes course.
The GLCC, which owns and oversees Camp Grow, also provides its own summer camp programs, some of which draw in as many as a 1,000 visitors.
The many conferences hosted at the GLCC, W2511 Highway 23 in Green Lake, include camps such as the Lawsonia Family Golf Camp, Quest Youth Conference and the Summer Family Adventure.
The Lawsonia Golf Camp, which took place last weekend, is a week-long program where families receive golf instruction from the Golf Courses of Lawsonia’s new PGA golf director, Adam Swenson.
“The fun thing about that one [camp] is that Dick Bennett, a popular basketball coach,” gave a lecture and kicked off the conference, said Kate Triller, director of group scheduling and marketing at the GLCC.
Similar to the Lawsonia Golf Camp, the Quest Youth Conference trains youth, not in golf but in leadership.
Individuals attend the conference through their youth group and are taught how to become leaders in today’s society and impact their church and communities.
The Summer Family Adventure program is focused more on family fun and biblical devotions and less on training. Kids and adults meet in the morning and evening, but have their own activities planned throughout the day.
Most notable of the 400 groups that meet annually at the GLCC is the World Mission Conference, which in the past has welcomed 1,300 missionaries and missionary supporters from over the world.
“You get to hear other people’s experiences,” said Rebecca Reeves, group scheduling director at GLCC. “A former co-worker said it best, I think … She said, ‘Where else in Green Lake County can you come experience the world?’…You get to hear their experiences and their life stories. You get a taste of everywhere else in the world right here in little Green Lake.”
All of the conferences and summer programs offered by the Pilgrim Center, Camp Grow and the GLCC accept registration up until the day of the camp; however, openings are dependent upon the amount of space available.
For those who wish to attend the camps but lack the funds to do so, all three ministry sites have scholarship funds that can help make it more affordable.