By Sarah Bingham Miller
At the beginning of 2020, all of us at Camp Quest were looking forward to our 25th summer of fun, friends and freethought.
In the summer of 1996, Edwin and Helen Kagin held the first Camp Quest in Kentucky. In the quarter-century since then, thousands of children have attended Camp Quest in locations from Virginia to California. Many young people have attended Camp Quest since they were 8 years old and continue to serve Camp Quest as counselors, board members and camp directors. In 2019, one session of Camp Quest Northwest had 11 former campers return as counselors!
And then in March, we all learned that we would not be able to hold residential camps safely this year because of the pandemic. Our network conducted an extensive national risk management assessment, carefully reviewing the evolving worldwide crisis and its impact on our programs.
Out of respect for the best scientific knowledge available, and placing the health and safety of our campers first, we decided to cancel residential camp sessions.
Our dedicated and inventive volunteers and staff worked hard to maintain the community so many find at Camp Quest. Camp Quest affiliates in Ohio, Minnesota and California held popular online camps. The Camp Quest National Support Center also provided online activities to campers impacted by school closures. All activities were free of charge, and we were able to serve over 300 campers online.
This year, our annual Leadership Summit will be held online for the first time. Our summits are a chance for staff and volunteers to gather, attend educational panels, share experiences and have meaningful connections. We are grateful to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for being one of our Session Sponsors in 2020, in addition to their generous support for camperships.
Camp Quest is also taking concrete steps to expand our programs. We are planning to launch new day camp and other year-round activities over the next few years.
In 2019, we conducted a feasibility study and created a new staff position to lead program expansion. In June of this year, Camp Quest welcomed Mary Sullivan as our new program manager. Mary brings 20 years of camp experience to the team, including time as an accreditation visitor with the American Camp Association.
Camp Quest’s programs are held to the highest professional standards, and our network has an ongoing partnership with the American Camp Association.
In 2019, as part of our program expansion feasibility study, we also conducted a survey of local secular groups to gauge their community needs for secular youth and family programs.
The desire for secular youth programs, especially day camps and afterschool programs, is widespread. Camp Quest’s vision is to support the growing secular community by making it easy for local groups to conduct their own youth and family programs. Camp curriculum and activity resources, as well as assistance with operations, administrative systems, staff screening and training, are key services local camps will gain through Camp Quest.
Though the summer of 2020 presented the camp industry with many challenges, Camp Quest has thrived due to the perseverance of our volunteers and the strength of our community. We know that many more families and youth can benefit from Camp Quest. We look forward to our next quarter-century of service to the secular community!
To keep informed about Camp Quest, sign up for the newsletter at campquest.org/newsletter.
To learn more about the Camp Quest Virtual Leadership Summit, go to campquest.org/summit.
Sarah Bingham Miller is the development director for Camp Quest.