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Camp Stevens: The Sacred in the Story

In 2007 I stood by the water towers above the remains of what had been our summer cabins. Looking down through the smoke and ash, I took a deep breath and let out a sigh of exhaustion. It had been 48 hours of no sleep and intense worry.

It took me a moment to realize standing next to me was a firefighter. She was taller than me, broad, and loaded with a substantial equipment belt. She was covered head to toe in soot. I didn’t expect to see tears on her face. I reached over and placed a hand on her shoulder- I asked if she was okay.

She shared her story- that she had grown up in foster care and, as a middle schooler, her case worker had partnered with Camp Stevens to send kids to summer camp. Her time at Camp Stevens was her first time in an outdoor environment, and, while she had to get used to spiders and sunscreen, she fell in love with the wild. She recalled cooking over a fire, getting poison oak,  listening to the Lorax before bed, feeling scared of owls, and counting stars with her new friends. At camp, she figured herself out, she could breathe deeply, and she felt like she belonged- even when it was hard.

Upon returning from camp, she shared that her life got complicated, and she lost herself, resulting in prison time as a young adult. The impact of her camp experience never left her, so she chose to train in the inmate wildland firefighting program. She had been out of prison for several years now working full time with Cal Fire. “Thank you,“ she said, “for giving me a  lifeline back to myself.” We hugged and we cried, our spirits strengthened through the sacred connection of camp, of resilience, of life.

In a post-Covid, tech-captivated, socially polarized world, these sacred connections and transformative experiences are more important than ever. Camp Stevens offers a space where people are the priority. We strive to foster a community that encourages participation- not perfection, authenticity- not assimilation, and faith exploration- not religious exclusion. While relationship building remains a constant at camp, living our Episcopal values galvanize our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our work shows up in how we compensate and train staff, how we prioritize our resources, and how we take responsibility for improving access and belonging for our campers.

The two current primary equity initiatives include the employee equity grants and our campership program. The employee equity grants address the pay gap between what our employees can make at a minimum wage summer job at home versus a week of summer camp. These grants are available to staff who identify as BIPoC, LGBTQIA2S+, disabled, economically vulnerable, or other groups of marginalized people. Over the past two summers, we have disbursed almost $15,000, supporting over 30 staff. In 2023, over $100,000 was raised for camperships, providing financial support for over 50% of our campers- just like that firefighter. Camperships support individuals and partnerships including our partnerships with Refugee Net and the Hemet School District Foster program.

Recently, I hiked my dogs up to those same water towers. I looked down remembering the conversation with the firefighter; I observed the replacement construction and the 10,000 trees we planted. It was striking to recall the changes we navigated in response to the fire and the pandemic. These challenges taught us that sacred connection is about people and relationships and meeting the moment. We do this by prioritizing our shared Episcopal mission and values. We welcome you! Join us for summer camp,  family camp, or retreats. Support our ongoing, year-round work and DEI initiatives. Strengthen and expand the sacred connections we share as an Episcopal community by staying in touch and adding your own part to the Camp Stevens Story.

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Category: #Communications, #Worship & Formation, #Youth, Children, & Families

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6 replies to “Camp Stevens: The Sacred in the Story

  1. Albert Salmon | on April 17, 2024

    Attended my first camp counselling weekend in 1955. Attended may weeks as a counsellor and in 1957 returned as a maintenance man for the summer. Camp Stevens has a special place in my heart and soul. God’s Peace

  2. Anne M. Snyder | on April 17, 2024

    This story really hit deep. Our lives as children can be wonderful family memories or memories of struggle and pain even if you have a family. I’m so glad the firefighter got the chance to change her life and be free. I’m glad Camp Stevens came through the fire to continue it work in our community!! It’s a sacred place.

  3. Mary Lynn Coulson | on April 17, 2024

    Thank you, Kathy, for sharing this poignant reflection on a place that has been so special to me and my church community. I always say that the community at Camp Stevens is what we try to emulate in our parish life at St. Andrew’s. I especially and proud to hear about the two equity initiatives, which have impacted so many lives – both of the folks who benefit directly, and the rest of the community that is so much stronger (and more like the kindom of God) when it includes all. So proud of our diocesan camp!

  4. Suzie Meyer | on April 25, 2024

    Such a beautiful story, Kathy. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. Cynthia | on April 25, 2024

    Nature, and thus God, accept us just as we are. There is no need to become someone or something else. This lesson hits and sticks to the core. Examples ripple outward from there. This place is sacred!! I agree!

  6. Greg Larkin | on April 26, 2024

    Thank you Kathy – great story and explanation of the difference Camp makes in lives! I never get tired of hearing that story of the firefighter and how camp Stevens affected her life and her future.

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