Ever wonder how to get a sampler of camp without sleeping over? Well, I have the answer for you if you are between the ages of 5-8 or have children between the ages of 5-8. DAYCAMP at Camp Henry is the answer!
Every Friday night as I sit in the audience at the Camp Henry Talent Show, I am in awe of how many Day Camp "alumni" are up on stage, grown up to "big campers". Gobs of kids that started out at Day Camp and then found the courage to become a sleep-over camper fill the cabins each week. It is such a pleasure for me to be able to watch them grow into the amazing young people that they are. Maddie, who is now on staff at Camp Henry started out as a camper at Day Camp. She was up at the Nicely Center the other day and found her name on the Day Camp "skin". Here she is, 18 years old, going off to Africa for a year before she begins college, all grown up, and she still remembers her Day Camp experience fondly. Jake and JJ's kids, Levi, Luke and Logan, have all been day campers. My girls, Emma, Grace, and Jane, have all been day campers. Many previous staff members' kids have come full circle and have been day campers.
I have had the privilege of being the Day Camp Director for the past 8 years. Day Camp is a wonderful opportunity for children ages 5-8 to come to Camp Henry and do many of the activities that sleep over campers do, except they get to sleep in their own beds at night tucked in by mom or dad. A typical week at Day Camp looks a lot like regular camp including raising the flag, singing songs, arts and crafts, B-field games, horseback riding, tie-dying, mini-talent show, hearing stories, learning of God's love, making friends, swimming in Lake Kimbell, and of course, eating in the dining hall.
We somehow pack a ton of stuff into 6 short hours a day. Many local kids come from the Newaygo, Fremont area and many kids come up from Grand Rapids on the van provided by Camp Henry. The vans are often driven by former staff members of Camp Henry who are now moms that want their kids to have the same amazing experience that they had. The van leaves Westminster Presbyterian Church in the morning at 8:30 and returns at 4:30. The day campers are tired, dirty, and full of stories about their action packed day.
As a mother, I look back at photos of when my girls began at Day Camp. They were missing teeth, had knots in their beautiful hair, were covered in mud, had "red juice moustaches", wearing their tie-dyed shirts proudly, and most importantly, they were smiling! They were loved unconditionally by their counselors, they were immersed in God's love and they were allowed to just be "kids." They weren't watching television, playing video games, or rushing off to soccer practice, but they were encouraged to just "play", build forts, get dirty, chase frogs, wear silly face paint, and express themselves for who they are. Their experience as campers began as day campers and I am forever grateful.
When I was young (a hundred years ago), I went to a Girl Scout sleep over camp and was terribly homesick. I wrote my parents a letter in my best cursive explaining how much I missed them and how badly I wanted to come home. I have that letter framed and hanging up in my house now. The letter is funny and makes me smile now, but I vividly remember the feelings I had while I was there at camp with "Sea shell" as my counselor. It was all so new to me and the other girls seemed to be so much more experienced with camp than I was. I wish that I had the opportunity to attend day camp as a youngster as a prequel to camp because I think that I might not have been quite as homesick for my first experience as a sleepover camper. I took a couple of years off after Girl Scout camp, and later returned to sleepover camp and managed much better the next go around. Thank Goodness!
I am blessed each summer because I get to see these young day campers begin their love of Camp Henry. I also am blessed because I get to see my own children grow into the best version of themselves due to the love shown at Camp Henry.
Day Camp really does Rock!
Kelly Hotaling, Mom and Day Camp Director
As summer is rolling right along, we've asked a few campers to write about their favorite parts and experiences at Camp Henry to share with all of you. Here is what Erin has to share about her experiences at Camp Henry and in Waterskiing and Wakeboarding Camp.
I’ve been going to Camp Henry for 6 years now and it has always been one of my favorite places to go in the summer. You get to try so many new things and meet so many great people. Everyday, you do some activities with your cabin and some with your brother cabin. You also get to choose some activities to do four mornings a week with anyone else in camp.
However, there are alternatives to the regular morning activities. For example, the past two years I have done water skiing and wakeboarding camp. I’ve gotten into wakeboarding and Camp Henry has an awesome program for people who like wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, etc. that you get to do during the morning activities. It’s so much fun and you get to learn new tricks, or if you’ve never done wakeboarding or water skiing before then you can learn how to.
Every night at Camp Henry you close off with some all camp games or campfires, which are always so much fun and I look forward to them everyday. Camp Henry is a great place to spend part of my summer and I will be going for as long as I can.
Erin Overholt is 15 years old and this summer was her 6th time at Camp Henry. She has loved going every time. Erin will be a sophomore at Forest Hills Northern High School. She wakeboards and snowboards and loves to play sports like basketball, soccer, cross country and crew. Erin also has a younger sister named Emily who also attends Camp Henry every summer.
As summer is rolling right along, we've asked a few campers to write about their favorite parts and experiences at Camp Henry to share with all of you. Here is what Quinn Kirby, a long time senior camper, has to say about her time at camp.
Ever since I started coming to camp six years ago, it has always been a place of complete and utter acceptance and support. Chapel is a feel-good experience every day, and the messages that flow so freely through the staff's skits are uplifting to anyone who hears them.
It isn't the sense of belonging that brings me back year after year, although that alone would most definitely keep me coming back. It's the camaraderie, the bonding with your cabin and the complete overflow of activities that makes camp seem more like an amusement park rather than just 200-acres of land.
Take, for example, my personal favorite choice of a morning activity-rock camp. Rock camp is not, in fact, an intense, research-filled, daily expedition for quartz, petosky and other stones and minerals, but a fifty minute section of the day cut out completely for music. You never know what you're going to get each week. You could sing a barrage of Beatles songs, worship songs that make you feel like dancing, or secular songs that never fail to get everyone on their feet.
That said, at the end of the week, the camp enjoys a talent show where anyone can perform. This has become a personal tradition for me to write a song and sing along with my guitar. The support by the camp by the time I'm off stage is one of the happiest things I've ever felt.
Camp has taught me to love myself and to stand up for my beliefs, even if I'm the only one standing.
By: Amy VanHaren
Summer has officially arrived and with it a familiar five senses attachment to summer camp. Like having an invisible thread, or a piece of yarn from a get-to-know-you cabin activity on my finger, there is physical connection to Camp Henry that arises every June when a new batch of counselors gather on the A-field for Staff Training. It's as if those of us who have been there before are still part of that circle, still linked to the adventure of what lies ahead.
I'm right back in the dining hall when my daughter slams the door on our screen porch or sings "Bringing Home My Baby Bumblebee" in the back seat of the car. I catch the smell 0f camp in the air just before a rainstorm, on my swimsuit as it hangs, drying out from the lake, in passing the horse barn up the street. The sight of dew on the grass and a light foggy mist over the backyard at 6 a.m. make me feel like I'm walking to an early staff meeting instead of work, with the flag pole trivia questions running through my head rather than the day's marketing meeting agenda. I feel camp anytime I sit on wood in the evening - whether a dock or a log - and am always taken right back to a floating campfire or the opening campfire or better yet, a sacred ceremony.
I feel camp on Friday nights and Wednesday mornings and Monday afternoon rest periods. I still feel the excitement of check-ins and the bittersweet emotions of Saturday send-offs.
There is nothing, however, that makes me feel camp's roots in my soul more than Sunday evenings. For that's when time shifts, when the week begins, when you slip into your own world to let the magic of camp really set in.
Sunday nights are when you go on Camp Time.
On Sunday night on the shores of Lake Kimball, after you've made it through the introductions and the swim test and the elevated noise of the dining hall, and you are tucking into bed to the sound of mosquitos buzzing, and bunk beds creaking, and the security of knowing your counselor is present in the room this time, you turn your clocks back one hour. Really, you do. You ignore the laws of time zones and the master universe and the rhythms of the world everywhere outside Camp Henry and you make time work for you.
You gain an hour of sleep and awake to the sense that this place - this camp - is really something special. This place has gumption. And you, by proxy of being at camp, have gumption too. You, are something special too.
This shift happens week after week and there are many times when it seems crazy to go forward and back, and forward and back - especially as a staffer when it affects your sleep (and a little of your sanity).
But always, there is more light in the morning. More dark in the evening. There is the magic of knowing you are all in a pocket, in a place, where you control what happens and even time bends to your whim.
I've come to see that that actual time shift, is really just a metaphor for the true shifting that takes place at camp. The way you subtly let yourself take more time to laugh. To sing. To sit on the H dock and watch the sunrise. To make friends with people you wouldn't think to in a normal time zone. To make way for being silly, spending hours in conversation, getting absorbed in a friendship bracelet or a frog hunt, or a song chorus that never ends. (Down her nose, to her toes! And she whistles while the...)
Camp Time is not about the numbers on the clock but about the state of your heart. The subtle shift in your soul. The surrender to an experience that demands your attention so completely and rewards you so richly.
I'm now removed from Camp Time, and not turning my numbers back on Sunday nights anymore, but along with the invasion of the senses, that feeling of Camp Time returns for me every year. I notice that stirring to slow down and make a little more time for the things that matter in life.
To appreciate people; to sit down at dinner and connect. To linger over the sunset and play certain songs on repeat. To turn off the technology and constant "to do list" and just be present in the moment. To call old camp friends.
Camp Time has taught me that you can control where your energy goes. It's taught me that deep relationships happen when you commit yourself fully to a moment, when you listen completely to a person and see them - really see them. It's taught me that tent time is the best time, forks are for dorks, the chocolate skit is always a bad idea - but hilarious to kids, that the boy loved the tree, and that you actually can jump off the green raft/play a guitar in front of people/ride a horse with no saddle in the dark/wear a bathing suit and tennis shoes (only a bathing suit and tennis shoes).
Most of all, Camp Time has taught me that the moments move too fast in life, that you must embrace them. Because whether in Michigan or Maine, not even controlling the time can make it stop.
I feel fortunate to see so many others connected to camp still living on Camp Time. Just this past week, there were signs of it all around me: The ten lovely camp ladies I adore sent a fury of emails and photos getting ready for the newest Hanks Honey's weekend, Sarah Hammer sat next to me on my porch, Nick Koster taught his new family to wakeboard for the first time, and the inspiring Trout Steak Revival - made up of Travis, Casey, and Will - three guys who used to play guitar at PJ sing - won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival! And that's only the beginning. I see Camp Time taking place all around (mostly in my Facebook feed but thank goodness there is a place to remain visually connected!) and it makes me feel as though I'm still back in that pocket, in that time warp.
I hope to never go off Camp Time. I hope to teach my daughter that special camp time spirit and to continue to help Camp Henry give others the gift of Camp Time. I hope to keep it going until I am out of time.
Maybe, if like me, you feel the pull, we should all turn our clocks back once a year, during the first week of camp, and imagine we're in our bunks, trying to sleep without fear and overrun excitement, and wake up knowing we have an extra hour and a whole week - a whole summer - of magic before us.
Amy VanHaren is becoming a regular alumni blog poster for Camp Henry. She wrote a post for Camp back in March 2014 that you can't miss, check it out here. Amy is the owner of VanHaren Creative, a social media marketing company. Her first visit to Camp Henry was for mini-camp at age 7. She stayed in the Ottawa cabin and had so much fun she came back for an entire week that summer and kept coming back every year until she turned 17 when she went on work as Camp Henry staffer for 10 summers. Stay tuned for more posts from Amy and keep up with her on Facebook and Instagram.
Next Sunday, June 29th, Camp Sunshine will arrive on the shores for their first summer at Camp Henry. Maureen Sullivan from Camp Sunshine took a moment from preparing for Camp Sunshine at Camp Henry to reflect and share what Camp Sunshine is all about.
"In just a few short days Camp Sunshine will host its first session at Camp Henry. Established in 1983, Camp Sunshine provides an opportunity for people ages 12 – 50 with special needs to experience summer camp just as other children and young adults do.
Camp Sunshine is fueled by the hard work and effort of more than 500 volunteers each year. When campers arrive for the inaugural session at Camp Henry on June 29 they will be greeted by a familiar group of volunteers. These friendly faces belong to former counselors who will be returning to serve in a new capacity. The Professional Alumni Group (PAG) is made up of young professionals who have previously served as counselors at Camp Sunshine and are ready to serve in a greater capacity.
All of the PAGs have at least three years of experience at Camp Sunshine, and some up to seven years. They are college graduates whose experience at Camp Sunshine impacted them personally and professionally. Their professions include teachers, social workers, nurses, business professionals, coaches, youth group leaders, athletic director, among others.
For some people who associate Camp Sunshine with a particular location, having camp at Camp Henry is scary. They think it won't be the same. The PAGs will provide continuity from Camp Blodgett to Camp Henry and help to carry on the traditions of Camp Sunshine in its new location. They will embody our vow to be "one camp in two locations." They will serve as mentors to counselors, facilitate cabin team building, provide breaks to counselors and much more. In addition to their leadership role, the PAGs will also serve as trouble shooters, taking charge to do whatever is needed during camp.
What would motivate a 20-something professional to take vacation from a new job to volunteer at Camp Sunshine? The depth of emotion one feels about volunteering at Camp Sunshine is best summarized by this male PAG:
Camp Sunshine is not a place or an event to me. It's more of a state of mind. We are being tasked to create an environment that a very special population can enjoy things they don't typically get to experience. I chose to be a part of Camp Sunshine many years ago because I wanted to help make a difference in one special person's life, yet I experienced a profound change in mine because of them. This special population can change you; they will grab you and not let go; they will relentlessly welcome you every morning with an "I love you." They can give you energy that you never thought you had; you will do things with and for them that you never thought you would do; and most importantly, the memories of them will be with you forever.
Those who volunteer at Camp Sunshine have the privilege of seeing life through the eyes of a person with developmental disabilities. This experience increases tolerance and personal awareness, reduces stigmas, and creates lifelong friendships. Here's how a female PAG describes the experience:
I think that Camp Sunshine as a whole is inspiring. The people who volunteer their time are one thing, but the people who come--the population we serve--THEY are the inspiring ones. Being able to see, even just for a brief few days, the world through new eyes is so humbling. Each year, I leave camp exhausted, but blessed; feeling humbled to have been able to sacrifice a sliver of my time to friends who cherish those moments all year long.
I usually shed some tears at camp--exhaustion, frustration, love, and happiness. I am always in awe, each year, of the ability of the individual campers to get up each new day, and teach me something new about the world; to show me something I hadn't seen before. To teach me that life is to be celebrated, enjoyed, and cherished with enthusiasm. To teach me to look challenges square in the face and meet them head on. Life is coming at us, and we can choose to close our eyes and ignore the ugly parts and the challenging moments or we can choose to stand up (or wheel ourselves forward!!) and greet it head on and change it into something beautiful.
At camp, you can't go unnoticed. There are campers who will MAKE SURE you are greeted, you are hugged, your hand is shaken and a smile is shared. Even now, thinking about the upcoming week makes me smile. The thing that ALWAYS gets me, every year is the gratitude, the smiles, the JOY that is in this place.
Lives are transformed at Camp Sunshine, campers and volunteers alike. Lifelong friendships are created. In fact, several of our program staff met their spouses while volunteering at Camp Sunshine! On June 29 when campers arrive for the first ever session of Camp Sunshine at Camp Henry, the magic will begin again."
To learn more about Camp Sunshine, you can visit their website.There is information for campers, counselors and those who wish to support Camp Sunshine through volunteering their time or through donations. Camp Henry is very excited to be hosting Camp Sunshine and is looking forward to having Camp Sunshine become a tradition.
Callie Ogland-Hand, a Camp Henry camper shares her experiences as a camper with us and the impact Camp Henry has had on her life. She returns to Camp Henry for her final summer as a camper in a few short weeks.
As a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, I started going to Camp Henry when I was 2 years old with my family at Family Camp. Then, I attended Day Camp, making crafts with JJ in the Nicely Center and playing games on the B-Field. After 2 years of Day Camp and 3 years of Mini Week, I was finally old enough and comfortable enough to go to a full week of camp.
I vividly remember the first time I stayed in one of the new cabins, Commanche. My counselors were Beth and Leah. They were best friends who loved every minute they spent at Camp. I remember them so well because they were always laughing and cracking jokes, and trying to make us young campers have the most enjoyable and fun experience possible. They were so comfortable with themselves and they perfectly embodied Camp's easy going and comforting atmosphere. It still amazes me how Camp staff seem to be the most wonderful, kind, and loving people imaginable.
One of the mistakes I regret most in my life is the summer after fifth grade, when I did not return to Camp. Looking back, I can't help but wonder what kind of a person I would be today had I continued going and been surrounded by the positive and loving people at Camp. Fortunately, Jake and some year-round staff visited Westminster's youth group last year, when I was a sophomore, to promote Camp Henry. Even after 5 years of not going to Camp, Jake still remembered me as a young camper and said it was fun to see me grown up. I signed up for Summer Camp again. Having a cottage on Kimball Lake and being a part of Westminster Church, I was still connected to Camp Henry through Westminster by the Lake and Family Camp, however I was a little nervous to go back to Camp after not attending for a few years.
Although some things had changed, like the Green Raft and the Camp Store, Camp's core values and atmosphere had stayed the same. I was immediately welcomed and immersed into Camp life and throughout the week I was continually amazed at the kindness and love that Camp embodies. I am so happy to say that I signed up for Camp this summer and I am excited to go back!
I am having a hard time putting in to words what makes Camp so great. I think it is the combination of everything—the relaxed atmosphere, the encouraging and accepting environment, the loving and kind counselors, and the focus on what it means to be a follower of Christ and doing good in the world—that makes Camp such an amazing and wonderful place.
Camp has easily been the highlight of my summers and is one of my favorite places to be. Camp Henry has a way of bringing the good out of every single person and it provides people with countless opportunities to be a better version of themselves and to learn and grow. It is sad that after this summer, I will be too old to be a summer camper, however I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to come back to Camp before it was too late.
Sherrill Vore, a leader and member at Westminster, has been a huge part of my family's experience at Church and at Family Camp. She describes Camp Henry so well: it is a sacred space. It is special, a place where you grow individually, with others, and in your faith. That's what Camp Henry is to me.