"You've got a friend..."
"You've Got a Friend" is one of Carole King's most memorable songs. "Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call and I'll be there" promises love, caring, reassurance and support. "You just call out my name . . ." also encourages many of us to think of prayer and our relationship with God.
The year 2020 has been a unique challenge to the world. Our NC United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries, including our sister Camps Don Lee and Rockfish, anticipated yet another successful year of retreats, school programming, environmental education, after school, preschool and the ever-popular summer camp programming. As you know, the camp experience has a profound, lifelong impact on those who encounter God in new ways in these sacred places. Campers and staff grow deeper in their faith while building confidence and relationships in a place apart where they "can be themselves," feeling safe, loved, and accepted.
WINTER planning promised more opportunities to serve than ever before. We were humbled and grateful for 2019 and full of joyful anticipation. Our "2020 Vision" embraced the continued sharing of the love of Jesus Christ at all three of our sites, with dedicated and experienced staff leading familiar activities as well as new.
SPRING brought plans to a screeching halt as the hard reality of COVID-19 forced cancellation of retreats and school groups. And, with the governor's orders to "stay at home," we sadly closed the gates to each of our sites, processed cancellations and issued many refunds to our constituents. With great disappointment and sadness, we had to lay off, furlough, and significantly reduce wages of our staff.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the Directors of all three camps, and our Executive Director Dail Ballard, met regularly over Zoom to interpret the CDC guidelines, the governor's directives and protocols from our local health departments. With prayer and careful deliberation, we sought to discern how best to continue this ministry effectively, safely and faithfully.
SUMMER started sooner than usual as schools were abruptly closed. The directors and staff determined we could, in fact, provide camp at each of our sites, albeit under rigorous restrictions, robust protocols and at a significantly reduced capacity. We created a summer camp like no other, serving almost 2500 campers throughout our 3 camps! Coordinating with national, state and local agencies, Chestnut Ridge, Don Lee and Rockfish delivered an amazing summer.
And we did not have any known cases of COVID-19 across the 12 weeks of summer camp. Detailed planning, careful oversight and the resilience and commitment of our staff enabled us to provide a summer camp experience like no other time in the history of this ministry. Coming to camp to celebrate relationships with each other and with God, campers and staff reclaimed a bit of "normalcy" in a time of great disruption. Parents thanked us. Campers were delighted! And staff were given the opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ at a time when 82% of camps across the country were not able to open for the summer season. We are profoundly grateful for these blessings.
FALL is just ahead, and the challenges of COVID-19 remain. By May this year NC UM Camps had lost over $2 million in revenues expected from retreats, school groups and other year-round programs. Over the summer we lost an additional $1 million as the otherwise successful summer camp season served at a significantly reduced capacity.
Our future has never felt so unpredictable, and Camp Chestnut Ridge has never been so vulnerable. We continue to offer programs while following guidelines and restrictions to protect the safety and well-being of our staff, campers and guests. We are making every effort to be responsive to the needs of our communities. For example, with support from parents and coordination with our local school systems, we are providing remote learning opportunities at camp for local students. Clearly, now more than ever, our communities need us. And we need you!
FRIENDS are wonderfully interconnected, especially during times like these. So, we are "calling out your name, wherever you are" with this update and appeal. We urge you to reflect on your own connections to camp and consider a generous gift to help sustain this ministry through the remainder of the pandemic. While we have made significant efforts to reduce expenses, the fixed costs to maintain our beautiful camps are high, and as a nonprofit with narrow financial margins, this extended period of lost revenue has put us in a precarious financial situation.
God has utilized the "holy ground" of our camps to change many lives for over 70 years. God is with us today during this tumultuous time. And we are confident God will continue to use our camp ministries to do great things well into the future. Please know our camp staff joins you in giving generously and sacrificing greatly for the sake of preserving this ministry.
In heartfelt hope and joyful anticipation, thank you, FRIENDS, for "being there" for camping. Use the donate page below to help us get through these unprecedented times and ensure the future of our camping community in the days, months and years ahead.
You've got a friend,
Rev. Nick Jeffries,
Camp Chestnut Ridge