by Jen Burch, United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries
- Start with your church. Does your church have a relationship with a camp? Find out if your clergy or congregation volunteers are active at your local church camp, whether friends from Sunday School or youth group are attending a camp program, or if there is a site where your church’s members regularly attend retreats.
- Consider your teen’s needs and interests.If the camp’s website or brochure doesn’t provide the information you need, reach out to the camp directly via chat, email, or phone. Some camps are better equipped to serve campers with various health conditions, behavioral challenges, allergies, or other needs. Be candid with staff about what supports your camper may need to be successful at camp. Also look for program types that may align best with your adventurous, introverted, or artsy young person.
- Camps accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA) are more likely to meet the industry’s best practices for safety and program standards. If the camp is not accredited, be sure to ask questions about staff training, risk management, and volunteer screening. Are all adults on site background-checked?
- Consider the cost, but don’t let the “list price” rule out a camp that is otherwise a great fit. Nearly every camp has scholarship funds available for families who need it. Your church may also be able to provide funding. Ask about discounts and scholarships, and apply early, if possible.
- Faith Perspective: If you don’t end up choosing a camp that has a relationship with your home church, ask about the theology or faith orientation of a prospective camp. Are you comfortable with the camp’s style of encouraging faith commitments? Will the camp be a safe place for your teen’s sexual orientation or gender identity? How does the camp program incorporate practices like prayer and Bible study?
- This excellent article from the ACA suggests key considerations for parents/caregivers and prospective campers, including great questions for prospective campers to ask and a sample packing list. https://www.acacamps.org/press-room/how-to-choose-camp/preparing-for-camp
- Counselors-in-Training or other leadership opportunities: Many camps have Counselor-in-Training (CIT) programs, volunteer opportunities for teens and young adults, or other ways to engage in ministry for those who are aging out of attending as a camper. These experiences can be wonderful stepping stones for gaining work experience, growing as a leader, and discovering God’s call in their lives.
Sending your teen to camp (and/or encouraging them to work there) can be one of the most impactful decisions you make for their faith formation. Even if camp isn’t part of your family’s tradition, consider giving it a try. If going away to residential camp isn’t the right fit for your kid, consider a day camp or family camp experience to get a taste of the fellowship and fun of camp in a setting and time frame that works for you.