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Why Kids Need Young Life Camping, Now More Than Ever.

Gabe Knipp, senior director of Content and Buzz, recently sat down with Chad Sievert, senior vice president of Camping for Young Life, to discuss the state of camping in 2023.

Gabe:You’re the senior vice president of Young Life Camping. What is it about camping for you personally that gets you out of bed every day?

Chad: Well, I was one of those kids who went to camp and had a leader who invested in me. I went to Castaway as a WyldLife kid and Frontier Ranch in high school. And then I went to Wilderness for adventure camping. I had the full camp experience.

I love teeing leaders up to have an experience with kids. I just love the community around camping, and what that community creates. I love the tactical business part of camping; that our camp staff are committed to what they do in and for the mission.

One of our camps has coined this phrase, “Welcome home. You’re here. What can I do for you?”

I think what happens at camp is magical, and honestly, what it creates for when leaders and kids get home. It’s the starting point of being a new creation. Why wouldn’t I want to pour more into this opportunity?

Gabe:COVID happened in March of 2020. How did that affect camping?

Chad:From a missional perspective, 2020 was the first time since a polio outbreak in the 1950s, that Young Life missed a summer of camping. The summer of 2020 impacted not only that summer season but the ministry rhythm of the mission for the last three years. Those gaps range from school season camping to summer, our volunteer pipeline, and our ability to grow ministry in the local area. ​

Gabe:How much do you think that disruption will cause some permanent changes to things?

Chad: We’re building up resilience again. There are some changes I think we’ll have to continue to evaluate; something as simple as, “Are we going to provide linens?” Do we have the manpower to support providing linens? When you think about our work crew in the laundry, they spend six camp days turning over the previous week’s linens. Is that a value we still want to hold?

The gaps we’re experiencing in our ministry operations right now are helping to highlight what’s central and where we can be more flexible. In this season, we’ve been forced to try different approaches to WHAT and HOW we serve guests, while still accomplishing Young Life’s big WHY for camping – it’s a strategy for setting up local volunteer leaders to walk alongside their friends as they personally experience and process the gospel.

Gabe: ​ What changes are you seeing with kids themselves?

Chad: When kids arrive at camp, there’s a different level of what they’re bringing there. Some aren’t as comfortable as they were pre-COVID being in a large setting, and navigating social dynamics is different. They’re carrying things into camp that over the course of COVID, they had to carry alone. We’ve seen a higher volume of kids navigating the challenges of being an adolescent right now than we did pre-COVID. And their ability to engage, navigate, and maybe have a little grit or resilience along the way, is depleted at the moment.

Gabe: ​ With the baggage kids are carrying, why is it important for them to get away to camp?

Chad:After living through a couple of years of isolation, remote learning, and virtual community – what Young Life has to offer kids and their circumstances today is more widely applicable and needed than ever! While Young Life is not in the business of being therapists, what we do is therapeutic! Through the faithful pursuant work of volunteer leaders to show up in the lives of kids in their local community, they experience being seen, known, and loved – which lays the groundwork for movement toward healing and wholeness to occur.

Our camps are designed to facilitate and support the ministering presence of leaders in the lives of kids. Camp is a place for leaders and their friends to step away from the everyday rhythms, demands, and distractions of home to spend intentional time sharing life together.

Yet, that’s not the whole story. Young Life’s mission is not focused on simply developing healthy relationships in adolescents, which is so evidently needed today. But from this foundation, we introduce them to the one relationship we’re all created to belong in and experience together, with Jesus. Our camps give Jesus’ invitation the central spotlight. Our volunteers and staff wrap around leaders and their friends with our best efforts to prepare the way and offer a reflection of life in the Kingdom. Camp is the body of Christ in action – incarnating His seeing, knowing, and loving presence in the lives of kids. They’re surrounded by it! And their leader has the sacred privilege of walking with them, helping them process Jesus’ invitation, and continuing to reflect the heart of God for them and with them when they return home. This is why Young Life camps!

Gabe:What’s encouraged you during the past few years?

Chad: The courage and resiliency of our mission. Camp staff have continued to faithfully create these special environments even in the midst of difficult circumstances. And our field staff have continued to pursue kids for the sake of the gospel.

Our capital giving towards new projects, rebuilding, constructing a brand-new camp, adding a ride, and so many other projects. I’m so encouraged our donors have actually accelerated their giving in this season. We’re doing more capital construction than ever. At the start of COVID, I thought, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to have to slow down some of these projects in the queue.” And the funding just kept coming. And to think about this moment in time where our attendance numbers have dipped because of COVID, but our preparation for what’s to come has only been accelerating, is so encouraging.


It’s overwhelming to think donors have stayed faithful to what happens at camp. And the fact that they’re giving towards supporting more or improving more, is amazing.

Bringing Camp Home

How to apply what happens at camp to reduce stress and care for teens.

Camp experiences seem to be a positive factor in the mental health of young people — kids enjoy meals together, get outside and experience adventure — all of which have been proven to help young people thrive. With anxiety, loneliness and depression spiking for younger generations, what can camp teach us about creating environments of health? You may not be able to build a ropes course, and please — no waterslides into kiddie pools — but you can take steps today to make an impact.

Share meals. At camp, every meal together is around the table. These times are meant to facilitate conversation and make sure no one feels left out. At home, shared mealtime has been shown to be a protective factor in adolescents’ mental health. Mealtime is a chance to talk and connect without an agenda, and talking is another key aspect in caring for kids’ mental health.

Move.Aerobic activity reduces anxiety and depression. Health benefits range from better sleep to less anxiety to better cognitive function! At camp, kids are on the move. After all, God gave us physical bodies; we aren’t just minds meant to think things (though it may sometimes feel like that). Extending that to home, even taking a walk can improve a young person’s mood. How can you get outside and move together?

Laugh and play. Built into every Young Life camp is humor. It’s good to laugh. Whether playing a board game or watching a favorite funny movie, laughter and play release endorphins — which increase the feeling of well-being. Research shows that play helps release young people from the impact of stress.

Model it.Most studies on parental modeling and mental health focus on the negative. A few, however, are increasingly focused on the positive — how parents, role models and mentors are crucial for adolescents. Just as Young Life leaders at camp show kids what life can look like — and become mentors and role models — kids need more adults who show up in that way. If you model health, it’s more likely to be picked up by kids, who are watching even when they don’t seem like it!

The need for parents to do everything can be overwhelming today. Instead of trying to replicate camp at home, or with a young person, what is one thing you can do? Maybe it’s a meal together once a week or a chance to watch a fun movie. By doing even one thing, you’ll be making a difference.

For more resources like this, sign up for In the Know, Young Life’s monthly newsletter from Alumni & Friends.

Your support would help us continue creating a positive influence and fostering meaningful connections among young people. Will you consider making a gift to Young Life today?


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