(The following is my column from the October issue of the diocesan newspaper "ChurchActs".)
If you’ve already read the annual camp article you’ve noticed it’s short by one whole camp. Senior High 2004 was cancelled. It was a terribly difficult decision that has sent a variety of ripples out into the diocesan youth ministry. All three of our camps had troubles this year with attendance at some all time lows. The most commonly heard question is: What happened?
In simplest terms Senior High was cancelled because not enough young people signed up. To justify the amount of money involved and the time invested by the staff there has always been a minimum number required. That minimum has changed from year to year based on a variety of parameters. This year we set the lowest minimum ever and still missed by approximately 15%.
Why did attendance drop at all three camps? We’re still looking at that question. What’s coming up in the discussions are some interesting points. There are two obvious problems that need to be addressed right up front:
Communication – It appears we fell victim to the oldest advertising mistake in the book. It’s the one that starts with “Everybody knows about…” While many people have some general knowledge about camp we quite simply failed to move that general knowledge to what’s called Top of Mind Awareness. Without that awareness we became just another item floating around in the very busy lives of our young people and their parents. Discussions are already underway on how to fix this challenge. It includes more materials going out to campers and their families, to the congregations and to the leaders (both lay and clergy) in those congregations. As always our best advertising is our young people telling all their friends what a great time they had. Look for the information, ask if it’s arrived (in a month or so) and stay in touch with me for all the details. Please remember that there are e-mail newsletters available for youth and leaders (with an parents one being discussed) and the diocesan youth web site is always there (www.eyouthwny.homestead.com)
Deadlines – The problem here is that no one seems to take them seriously. Consequently paper work dribbles in and leaves all the camp directors in a serious bind trying to make plans. The deadlines exist because we need to be able to tell the camps, in advance, how many people are coming. They need to know so they can order enough food to feed us and make sure there’s enough staff available to help in some cases. But that ‘s only the beginning. The camp directors need to know so we can make sure that we have the right number of staff, the right amount of materials and have activities appropriate for the size group coming. The needs of a camp of 95 youth can be VERY different than the needs of 45 youth. We try to get the applications out as soon as possible. This year you could even register online at the web site. Camps get cancelled because the time comes when we have to decide if we have enough young people or not. That’s the deadline. All I can ask is that you please, please, PLEASE take the deadlines seriously. If there’s an unavoidable problem then get in touch with the appropriate camp director so we know what’s going on and can help.
So where do we go from here? The camp directors, the Youth Commission and other interested parties are looking at everything to try and insure that our camps return in 2005 stronger than ever. Problems with how the applications were put together this year will be fixed. Communications will be improved and expanded. We’re looking at possible changes to expand the number of activities available at Senior High. The list goes on and on.
How can you help? Talk with other young people and adults about improving the whole camp experience. Pass along any ideas to the other camp directors or me. If you love camp then talk it up among your friends. If someone wants to talk to you about the Bishop Harold Robinson Society please listen. The Robinson Society is designed to help us insure the financial stability of our youth ministries.
Our diocesan youth camps will be back next year. We hope to keep EVERYTHING good about them, add more good stuff and minimize the problems. Like so many things it’ll work best if we can work towards being “One Church – Embracing and Living into the Dream of God”.