For the third time in my time as youth missioner I've had to make the call to cancel a camp program. Of all the things I've had to do in this position this is far and away my least favorite.
I'd rather do budget proposals. And that's saying a lot.
All of this has thrown a huge monkey wrench in my day. In fact it's been a growing cloud over me for the last several days. By Friday last we still only had 5 applications and we needed 20. A miracle was possible but grew less likely each day. Saturday's mail - 0. Today's mail - 0. So I made the call. Now I have 5 follow up letters to write, some check requests for reimbursements to fill out and months of asking the same question over and over.
"So what happened?"
The honest answer is I don't know. Likely suspects include:
The Economy - Our camp programs aren't terribly expensive. A week at Junior High would set a family back $395 per child plus canteen money (about $10). But this economy stinks and western New York is not a economic powerhouse in the best of times. At least not recently. We have a scholarship fund and it was tapped very heavily for Senior High. Maybe families just decided not to send their middle school aged kids to camp.
Limited Demographic - We do seem to be in a bit of trough right now for this age group but I find it hard to believe that there aren't at least 20 kids of this age with some interest in a camp program. We've had plenty of kids come up through our Sleep Away program. Where do they go?
Communication Failure - Is it possible? We have a web page, e-mail newsletters, a Facebook presence, a text message service. We do a huge pre-camp mailing using all the names from previous years campers plus mailings to the congregations. I'm trying to get out and do more face to face communication too. From my own background I know that there's a difference between volume of communication and effective communication. If you're effective the volume doesn't have to be high. If you're not effective then you have to bombard your target audience. I don't know where I am at the moment.
Other - Competing events? Lack of relevance? Unspoken animosity/dissent? Personality issues? Nobody cares any more? I don't know.
When I'm rational on the subject, which I'm trying to be right now, my thought is that it must be a combination of the above. Maybe it's something of which I'm not aware. If so someone needs to tell me.
Over the years I've had several conversations with folks I respect about whether a youth event should EVER be canceled. They see the cancellation as just doing too much damage to the overall program. While agree that canceling takes years to repair I don't know how we face our financial supporters that we spent the kind of money we do for an event that serves such a very small population. We need to model responsible use of our gifts and resources for the whole church including our young people.
As I'm finishing this post I just exchanged texts with our camp director. I apologized for closing camp. His response? "We'll be back, stronger than ever."
That's the goal and a good reminder.
Time to start keeping my eye on the prize for next summer.