Kenny Hotaling, a key member of the Camp Henry's leadership summer staff, sat down with us...er, technically with his computer since he and his family live in California...and took the time to answer a barrage of questions about his 10 (soon to be 11) summers at Camp Henry. His presence at Camp is noted in his hard work, his kindness, his fatherly compassion for the staff and campers alike, and his humor. If this interview doesn't have you chuckling, then you should come spend some more time with him on the shores this summer.
How did you first get connected with camp? Sitting around the Jacobs' dinner table here in California, my response to Jake's question was something like this" "What??? Chaplain? I've never been one before! Do I have to wear a collar or would the outfit from Princess Bride be ok?"
What made you want to get more involved? Sometimes God answers prayers immediately. As I began to consider whether my family and I should relocate to Michigan for the summer, with a newborn (Jane) mind you, He told me repeatedly that he wanted to challenge me by talking to campers about my experiences with God, my relationship with God, how God loves you, and how great it is to have God directing your life. I was nervous that I would blow it, but listened to God anyway. I sure am glad I did... for so many different reasons. It clearly showed me how big He is and how small I am... but I can still make a difference for His kingdom.
How many years have you been coming to camp? Year 11 this year! We've gone through a couple sets of tires, many oil changes, and a transmission, but have every intention to return for 12.
Did you attend camp growing up as a kid? If so, where, what was it like, what experiences do you still fondly reflect on now? I went to Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp as a teenager, and it the spot where I finally understood what having a personal relationship with God is really all about. I found out that it was so much more than the "stand up and the right time, sit down at the right time, and repeat after me..." church experiences. What I remember most was the "peace that passes all understanding" as well as the friendship of another camper and the guidance of our counselor. John 3:16 became a part of my heart.
What would be your "ideal' day at Camp Henry? No such thing exists as there are infinite answers to the ideal day. Despite all the uncountable number of wonderful/funny/sad/life changing/challenging/ridiculous/inspirational/powerful moments that have already happened, I know that God has even more in plan to make room for additional entries into the "ideal" day.
How has camp changed since you first came? Camp changes every summer; sometimes dramatically, sometimes, subtly. Camp isn't supposed to stay the same. We can always get better, get kinder, get closer to God, and make more headway to making this earth like He intended.
Many people would consider what you do each summer, taking the whole family across the country, living in small living quarters, etc., kind of crazy. What do you say to these folks? Yep. Nailed it.
What roles have you served/do you serve while at camp? I am just a humble "Happy Helper"- friend, chaplain, musician, mechanic, researcher, driver, reader, lifeguard, belayer, encourager, fire builder and plumber. I almost got the plumbing figured out for the bottom of the Blue House :) Maybe next summer.
How has going to camp each summer effected your daughters? Camp have helped us immeasurably parent our children. It is impossible for me to comprehend how all these summers have had an effect on my daughters. Likewise, it's impossible to comprehend what they would be like without all of those wonderful summers. What I do know is that my daughters are smart, confident, kind, athletic, beautiful servants who love the Lord and others. I am so thankful for Camp Henry for all it has done to help shape Emma, Grace, and Jane.
Any fun stories to share from your adventures across the country? Nebraska is horawful (horrible + awful = horawful). What's the best thing that ever came out of Nebraska? I-80! Uncountable rows of corn for hours is all one can see. But, out of necessity, a new car game was created: Corn Wars! The game is played by naming a corn type product. For example, Corn on the cob. The next person needs to name another- Corn Pops. It turns out there are quite a few corn products. Let's see how many you can come up with!! Hours of entertainment! By the way, do you know what the "N" on the side of the University of Nebraska football helmets stands for? Knowledge!
Any fun camp stories to share? A king calls for his servant. The servant asks what the king needs. "Bring me my Royal Papers!" he shouts. It turns out his royal papers aren't recycled papers from the office, nor are they some of the left over sheet music from the Theater. It turns out what he really needed was some Toilet Paper!!! Oh! Those Royal Papers!! Hilarious!!!
What do you do for a living outside of camp? I am a 17 year veteran public school teacher. I teach in an integrated classroom that focuses on math and science. It is a STEAM school that is heavy on engineering and computers so the math and science that we experience is applied to some sophisticated capstone projects. It's a blast going to work each day as I work with some very smart and motivated teachers.
What are some of your hobbies outside of camp? I have recently rediscovered my love of mountain biking! I'd ride everyday if I could. In addition, I also read a lot of non-fiction. Lastly, I am plowing through the Office on Netflix. Michael is so uncomfortably funny.
Favorite camp meal? Sausage patties. I eat the entire red basket.
Favorite camp activity to lead? Night Chapel. It's a blast to see God go to work in that sacred and beautiful place.
Favorite camp activity to be a part of? Christmas week's PJ sing. If you haven't heard Away In a Manger camp style... well, you are missing out.
If someone was not sure whether they should send their kid(s) to camp, what would you say to them? I completely understand! Having your kids away from you for an entire week! Super scary. However, this week I promise that your child will experience God's love and I also promise that we will take tender loving care of them.
What is your hope for Camp Henry's future? Someone once asked a question about my church here in California. They asked, "If this church closed down, would anyone care after a couple of years?" It's a pretty interesting question. Now, ask the same thing about Camp Henry. Presently, in my opinion, there would be an uproar if Camp closed! So that's my hope for the future. If in 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now, Camp Henry closes... there would be an uproar!
What is your hope for your future with Camp Henry? I hope they hire my back as a Happy Helper!
Go and Do
"If you want to make a difference in someone's life, you don't need to be gorgeous, rich, famous, brilliant, or perfect. You just have to care."
This summer, Camp Henry invites you to explore what it means to Go and Do. As you come to camp, our hope is for you to be encouraged to extend God's love and grace through your passions and individual gifts.
Much of our inspiration for this theme comes from the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). We are motivated by the acts of this ordinary Samaritan who went out of his way to care for a stranger in need. What really catches our attention are the two high rulers of the church who passed by this man on the side of the road before the Samaritan arrived.
Jesus later asks "which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man...?"
The expert in law replied "The man who was kind to him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise"
Who, in your life, inspires and motivates you to be the best version of yourself? Your parents? Your teacher? Coach? Counselor? Dog? Whoever it is, continue to discover why that is and go and do likewise so that you can be an inspiration to others in need.
Through simple actions of being generous, choosing joy, and accepting others, you will easily get a glimpse of what it means to live in the image of Christ.
We are so excited for this summer and cannot wait to have you here!
By Adam Swenson, Program Director
'Belay is on' here at Camp Henry! It has been an exciting start to 2016 as we welcome so many new great elements to our high adventure program. With a brand new high ropes course, a giant swing, leap of faith, dueling zip lines, and a Quick Jump out of the trees, there is something for all ages to enjoy off the ground and we are excited to share the adventures with you!
Whether it's facilitating team building with 6th graders or sending corporate groups down the zip line, the challenge program has become my favorite aspect of camp. I enjoy having a front row view of seeing the incredible growth through everyone's efforts as they work together towards a common goal. Being a part of this transformation is one of the most rewarding parts of my job and I love pouring my energy into helping folks leave camp feeling like a different, better, more confident individual or group.
The terms "Challenge Course" and "Team Building" have become buzzwords in recent years, and they have many connotations. Whether you're a corporate group, sports team, or school classroom, these challenge exercises are important not just for the immediate experience of the activities, but also for the group skills, communication and bonding that result. The activity, be it an obstacle course or 'Hot Chocolate River', is a high-impact learning experience. Team building programs provide realistic opportunities that empower individuals to contribute to their goals and feeds into our passion for providing life changing experiences.
The main goals of team building are to improve motivation, productivity, and build relationships among peers. Taking folks out of their normal work/school setting helps groups break down barriers, eliminate distractions, and ultimately, have fun.
As we are continuing to grow in this area at camp, so too must the staff running the show. In January, I had the awesome opportunity to travel down to Austin, Texas for the annual ACCT conference. ACCT stands for Association for Challenge Course Technology. The ACCT establishes and promotes the standards for effective challenge course programs such as safety procedures, programs, and element designs.
Facilitators and builders from all over the world met for the week to engage in workshops and share ideas as well as their experiences, which was a great networking opportunity for Camp Henry. During this time, I attended several sessions that highlighted areas such as effective debriefing tools, how to adapt initiatives to include everyone regardless of one's physical or cognitive abilities, and researching new material to keep returning groups invested.
Our keynote speaker for the conference was Pete Nelson from the show "Treehouse Masters". We are all familiar with him being 'the treehouse guy' and it was great hearing his background story of pursuing this unique and awesome craft. Like Pete and the rest of the attendees, it was refreshing to hear that we share so many common goals and reasons as to why we put so much effort into building zip lines and challenge courses.
If you have yet to participate in any of our challenge elements, I invite you to give it a try, whether it's with a dozen of your friends or an organization you're involved with throughout the year. You don't have to go to Cedar Point to experience the thrill or sit through a workshop on how to be a good team player, just come to Camp Henry! The adventure awaits.
By: Liz Allard
"We can do anything with a couple of sticks and a bucket of mud!" If you've ever sat in on a staff meeting with Jake at the helm, you've likely heard this phrase echo off the paper thin walls of Millar. I think about this phrase often and can't help but smile. Camp Henry is like an amoeba. It engulfs you with its inclusivity and makes you feel all of the feels-fun, happiness, empowered, confident, loved-the list of feels could easily take up this entire blog post. These feels, however, aren't derived from the buildings, the high ropes elements, the banana boat, four square balls, or any other resource we think is necessary to keeping the good times rollin'. Although all of these items are excellent, the Magic of Camp shines through when the resources are absent and we, as campers and staff, are left to our own devices.
Plain and simple, Camp taught me the definitions of resourcefulness and resiliency. I remember once, as a camper, walking into Arts and Crafts during week seven of Camp. The room looked post-apocalyptic. The cupboards were bare, except for a couple of small bottles of primary-colored paint that stood like the last few campers during a game of British Bulldog. Random cuts of yarn and string were strewn about and old wax was hardened in beef stew tins on hot plates from weeks of candle making. This could have been a moment where my counselor threw her hands up and directed us outside onto the A-field for chill time, but instead, she instructed us to go outside and find a rock. Meanwhile, she began gathering the remaining paint bottles, sponges, and any decent brushes and plopped them onto the center of the table.
When we returned from collecting our rocks, she exclaimed with that 'fake-it-'til-you-make-it' excitement, that we were going to paint our rocks! This had the potential to be a totally lame activity, but in true Camp fashion, us campers humored our counselor and got way too into painting our rocks. We even did a gallery walk of our finished artwork at the end of that afternoon activity! My painted ladybug rock is still used by my Dad as a paperweight in his office.
Flash forward to when I was a counselor during the summer of 2009. It was Pirate Day at Camp. These themed days started popping up at Camp once a summer as soon as a certain counselor (*cough* Kerry Drake) discovered, in our staff manual, that Camp used to host Paul Bunyan Day, and insisted we bring it back. When campers arrive at Camp, they come with whatever they have, unlike many of us counselors who come equipped with an entire closet filled with costumes that can morph into whatever theme we desire.
On Pirate Day, which ended up being another Olympic Day with pirate tendencies, it only seemed fitting that my entire cabin look pirate-appropriate. I began pulling out any pirate-ish clothing from my costume closet for my cabin of youngsters and drawing on face paint like our esteemed pirate colleague, Captain Jack Sparrow. Considering my costume closet was ill-equipped to dress 12 pirates in one day, I watched as campers pulled out items - scarves, striped shirts, bandanas - from their own bags and shared those items amongst themselves. We looked like a bunch of salty dogs by the end of rest period that day, and only spoke in pirate talk from then on. Being the youngest of the Girls' Village cabins, we weren't expecting to be the champions of all things pirate that day, but we certainly had the most fun. As my cabin and I got ready that day, I was reminded that at Camp, you don't have to have everything to be everything.
When I think back on my time at Camp Henry, most of my favorite memories revolve around instances where a camper or staff channeled this attitude of resourcefulness to create something unexpectedly awesome. Take morning activities during themed weeks at Camp, like Christmas in July. As you well know, there's no snow during the month of July in Michigan, but counselors, myself included, always insist on sledding as a morning activity, whether you're slip n' sledding on a soapy plastic tarp on the hill near the old corral or sledding on plastic mattresses down the stairs of Millar. Creating activities like these prioritizes imagination backed by innovation.
Like slip n' sledding, I definitely can't forget about the time that Jake wanted to make a go of a Camp Henry Rodeo as an evening activity. Us counselors were tasked with coordinating different events from line dancing to barrel racing to lasso practice. At the end of this newfound evening activity, Jake lined up the entire camp on the B-field to make the announce – uh, rather, share that the final event would be cattle roping! We all stopped and looked around at each other. To the best of our knowledge, camp didn't have any cattle. Jake then explained that two staff – Derek Whaley and Todd Boynton – would play the role of the cattle. Derek and Todd would have a ten second head start before the ENTIRE camp was to chase them down and lasso all four limbs together. I stood back and watched as Derek and Todd tore off across the B-field with hundreds of campers in tow. In an instance, dozens upon dozens of kids engulfed them as they disappeared amongst the pile of campers. When the campers cleared away, there laid Todd and Derek, disheveled and smiling.
At Camp, there's never an "I'm bored" moment because we are always thinking about those couple of sticks and that bucket of mud. In today's world, where cheap distractions and entertainment rest at the tip of my index finger, I'm reminded of the value of my experiences at Camp. Camp challenged me to reach beyond perceived limitations and to fill every moment with intention, regardless of where I was or the resources I had on hand. Camp Henry is about taking what might be considered mundane and building extraordinary experiences with the perfect storm of resourcefulness, imagination, intention, and can-do attitude.
About the Author: Liz Allard
I first attended Camp Henry mini-week when I was eight years old. I remember showing up with the pack my mom used when she worked on a fire crew for the U.S. Forest Service. The pack stood a third of my height above my head and was packed to the brim. I wore my signature jean short overalls all three days and had Emily Clark as my first counselor in the old cinderblock Commanche Cabin. It rained all three days and one of my first memories from those three days at Camp was Jake on stage in Idema Theater screaming the words to “Singing In the Rain,” while the rest of us sopping wet campers screamed along with him. When my parents arrived back at camp to pick me up after those three days, I begged them to send me back to camp the following summer.
I spent eight years as a camper followed by six years on staff, during which, I met my best friend and husband, Derek. We married in May of 2015, surrounded by our Camp Henry family. I currently live in Alaska, which I first visited when I was 16 years old while on the Teen Challenge trip with Camp Henry. I am excited to help with the same trip this upcoming summer when the new crew of Camp Henry teens visit the 49th state in July.
By Wendy Jacobs
Wendy is the mother of Jeff Jacobs, aka Jake, the Executive Director of Camp Henry
Jeff, or Jake as he is known at Camp Henry, began attending Camp Henry as a 9 year old soon after we moved to Michigan from Ohio. I thought it would be a good place to meet some new friends...little did I know it was the beginning of a long term relationship with such a special camp. It is a huge part of his life as he has gone from camper to counselor, program director and then summer camp director to now he is the Executive Director! His love for Camp Henry shines through with his enthusiasm for making sure each camper has the best week of their lives at camp as well as his ideas for new programs (like spring break trips and off-site trips for teens), and new facilities. Yet he also retains the old traditions of camp.
Our car can practically drive to Newaygo and the shores of Lake Kimball all by itself due to the many trips we've made there. Each summer Jake would invite us to come and share the various events, from the Indian campfires, with the horses picking up each cabin of campers, to observing Olympics week, watching talent shows, attending chapel services, to having the experience of eating in the dinning hall, or for special cook-outs, on the deck. During the years that he and J.J. (his wife) traveled from California to run the summer camp, it was a bonus for his father and I to be able to spend time with our grandchildren!
I'll never forget my first experience at the Indian campfire when Jake came across the lake dressed as an Indian and paddling a canoe to begin the traditional campfire. It was all so impressive and you could hear a pin drop. The campers were so engrossed in the ceremony!
Camp holds such a special place in Jake's life that when his first son was born, he was named Levi HENRY Jacobs! And where do you think he was baptized?....at the Camp Henry chapel!
Now he has three sons and what a joy it is for him to have them there as campers! Also now many of his high school and college friends are sending their children to old Camp Henry, old Camp Henry.
I know I'm a very proud mother, but I think Camp Henry is so lucky to have such a dedicated person at the helm. Jake is so knowledgeable of the camp history while at the same time he has great vision for the future. Any parent sending their child to camp should know that he will be in good hands with such a caring and capable director along with such a competent staff.
Here's a poem that captures the impact Jake has on Camp Henry.
C amper,counselor,summer director, and executive director too
A well qualified man for the job to do.
M any friends made and a role model too -
P lus camper numbers growing - new cabins going up.
H elping each camper - being the best he can be,
E njoying a week at Camp Henry -
N ature, boats, games and songs
R elating to counselors all week long.
Y es, sad when the day comes to leave ---
But plans will be made to come back once more
To that special place Kimball -right on the shore!
By Amy VanHaren
There is a week at camp that is perhaps even more magical than all the rest.
A week when lights are hung around cabin doors and A-field games become reindeer games. When counselors fight over who gets to be one of five golden rings or the coveted partridge in a pear tree. When your cabin just might get a trip around the world or a serenade by the Boys Village Backstreet Boys.
It's a special time-warp week in the heat of summer when the animals attend chapel as part of the nativity scene, staff disappear to Tom's shed to become elves, and you get to carol cabin to cabin by candlelight (or, maybe, around the lake as part of a Flotilla).
This joyful week is Christmas week, and it has always been my favorite.
I would guess it's a favorite of many, because if you really think about it, summer camp and Christmas are not all that different.
You spend the month before each arrives in a state of heightened anticipation, counting down the days. You can't sleep the night before. You want to be the first one to the tree - or check in table - on the day it arrives.
You sing some songs. You dress up a lot. You decorate (the tree or yourself). You make things for other people. You gather around a table, sit before a fire, and tell stories of mythical beings (one happens to wear a santa hat and slip down the chimney, the other, seaweed while slipping into cabins).
It goes way, way too quickly.
And when it's over, you feel sad, but you wake up the next day with warm memories and a full heart, already excited for next year.
Both come with much merriment and a whole lot of gifts (some you've asked for, others not so much), so in honor of both seasons, I present my top 12 Camp Gifts:
1. The Gift of Spontaneity.
You never know when you'll get picked to be a British Bulldog or what will happen during the Steeple Chase or whether or not you might have to carry someone around the table. There is structure to the days at camp but only enough so that you can rely on the rhythms, not enough to prevent creativity or adventure or teachable moments. The ability to veer wildly off course, to start a chant or throw in a new a rule in four-square, allows us to be playful and adaptable in ways the rest of the world does not.
2. The Gift of Nature.
Camp exists almost entirely outside. You move from place to place on dirt paths. You spend nights under the stars. You zip line among the trees and swim across the lake and ride horses through DeVries woods. On rainy days you slip and slide in mud. During capture the counselor you cozy up to bushes. You might even clean seaweed out of the red area if it's early in the summer. At every turn, you are exposed to all that our natural world has to offer and it shapes not only our time at camp but also our time beyond in meaningful ways.
3. The Gift of Friendship.
Bunkmate, Ottawa cabin, buddy call, Olympic team, fire toss, teen challenge, staff training. These are just seven out of 700 ways we make friends at camp. We're thrown together in unique ways and from it, we form tighter bonds with those we came with and new bonds with others we've just met. We make fast friends because we must, and lasting friends because we choose to. Whether for a week or a lifetime, camp is filled with opportunities to connect and those connections are what make the ride all that much more amazing.
4. The Gift of Self-Esteem.
This might be the biggest gift I ever received from camp: the chance to try out being me, being brave enough to really be me, and finding acceptance. We give of ourselves in spades while at camp, everything from our energy to our voices to our hearts...we give it all. And in return, camp gives us a safe environment to grow and flourish.
5. The Gift of Music.
Can you still hear it? Music fills the days and the nights at camp. We sing rounds in the chapel and rock out at PJ sing and look to the water during Witchy Ti Ti. We sing before meals and after. We sing at the talent show, on the deck during down time, and at every campfire. Those of us who can't sing a lick are encouraged to join in. Those who can, do so loudly and move us to tears. Some even write their own beautiful music. We sing as a form of expression, in silliness and reverence and together, as a community. The songs burrow into our souls and we take them with us. We sing the songs of camp in the backseat of the car all the way home and at our camp weddings and in the middle of the night to our babies. Somehow the camp soundtrack finds it way into the playlist of our lives.
6. The Gift of Jake.
Where would we all be without a camp leader like Jeff Jacobs? (Or his wife JJ!?) Or Ron Goodyke, Steve Kadu, our favorite staff members, or any of the hundreds of people who have given their time, money, and hearts to Camp Henry year after year? Those who build and sustain camp are our treasured gifts.
7. The Gift of Emotions.
Camp is a place of feeling. A place where everything somehow feels more real, raw, joyous, and sometimes sad. We gather on the shores and wear our hearts on our sleeves in ways we don't elsewhere. We hug actively. We laugh easily. We get fiercely competitive on the field and overly dramatic on the Idema stage. We fall in love (see #9 below). We feel every star in the night sky in our core and every relationship deep in our bones. Sometimes we sob when it's over and we frequently sleep for days to recover. There is risk in allowing yourself such emotional openness but there is even greater reward. Such feeling - learning how to feel, feeling our way forward, putting our feelings out there - is crucial in life and camp gives us a place to hone our skills.
8. The Gift of Rest Period.
Period. We may fight it but what relief it is to pause and restore. How important to all the other gifts. (I'm talking to you future campers, embrace it!)
9. The Gift of Crushes.
The boy in your brother cabin. The waterfront director with the whistle. The girls counselor you hope you're paired with. (I'm sure your own are coming to mind at this very moment.) Camp is a place for crushes, and I mean more than just romantic. It's filled with friend crushes and crushes on athletic ability and crushes on someone else's amazing costume. We crush on counselors because they are role models who show us fearlessness and vibrancy, and other campers because they share our love of books or share nothing at all. It's a place where we learn to look up to people and to really look at people. Camp crushes give us hope.
10. Gift of shared experiences.
The real magic of camp might just lie in the fact that we've all been there. We've experienced it together. We have stood at the flagpole and collectively made someone eat from the gut bucket. We have checked in and bunked up. We've become women and warriors. We've gone through camp together, so we remain together. We're all Camp Henry people and better off for it.
11. The Regift.
Camp is not so different from the Giving Tree. It shakes with joy when we're around and gives just what we need, at every age we need it: a place to play, love, adventure, plant roots, and sit in peace. Camp gives back and it does so over and over again, when we're physically present and even still when we've grown up and moved away.
12. The Gift of Immortality.
Because we're all going to live forever on the shores of Lake Kimball.
As time goes on, I think back on the multitude of gifts Camp Henry has bestowed (these twelve and so many more) and I feel compelled to also give back.
I dole out gifts in many ways. I like more camp photos on Instagram. I reach out to camp friends more frequently. I can't wait to send my kids to camp. And I support camp scholarships and initiatives like the improved dining hall because everyone deserves the gift of camp. Everyone deserves to sit squashed together on a bench, elbow to elbow, eating Helen's food, having the time of their lives and awaiting the next laking.
Here's to Christmas at camp and to camp at Christmas. I hope you look fondly on your camp gifts and have a very merry season!
About the Author:
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.
Amy VanHaren is a regular alumni blog poster for Camp Henry. To see her previous posts, click here.