Students Extend College Experience into Summer With Camping Ministry

Joel Brand
Joel Brand, a 2013 University graduate with a degree in youth ministry, says about his camp experiences: “I wanted to continue to work at a Covenant camp after my graduation because it is such a life-giving thing to me for being in ministry.”

Summer positions in Covenant camps give students hands-on job skills, lasting friendships

CHICAGO (June 20, 2014) — Hannah Hawkinson spends nearly every hour of the day with her cabin group, leading activities, getting to know her campers, and helping out wherever she’s needed. This is her first summer working as a counselor at Covenant Point Bible Camp in Iron River, Mich., but her connection to the camp runs deep.

Hawkinson, an English literature and biblical and theological studies major at North Park University, wanted to spend her break working in a summer position that she found meaningful. “Covenant camps, and Covenant Point particularly, have played such a huge role in shaping my life and faith,” she says, “and I want to give back to them in any capacity possible.”

Like many North Park University students and alumni, Hawkinson has been significantly impacted by her experiences attending and serving at camps affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church. Each year, the University hosts a Camp Fair for students to meet representatives from each Covenant camp, learn more about their ministries, and find their best potential fit as a summer staff member.

The University partners with the Association of Covenant Camps and Conference Centers, an affiliated ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church, to connect students to summer positions. Once hired, University undergraduate students can earn a Camp Grant by working on summer staff at a Covenant camp. Approximately 70 students will receive a Camp Grant this year.

Through camping ministry opportunities, North Park students travel, make connections with peers and mentors, and learn a variety of valuable skills. Students excel in positions as camp counselors, program directors, kitchen supervisors, and marketers, regardless of their major.

As Hawkinson is finding as a first-time counselor, the broad set of opportunities that camp ministry offers students allows for a truly unique summer job. “Working at Covenant Point has already led me to immense growth in all facets of my life,” she says. “I’m learning more about myself each day, growing in and wrestling with my faith more than I ever have before, and getting some amazing work experience while I’m at it. What more could you ask for?” 

“Take what I know and live it out”

North Park University alumni have found Covenant summer camp positions helpful in clarifying career paths. Claudia Fisher first served as a counselor at Cascades Camp and Conference Center in Yelm, Wash., just after graduating from high school in 2002. She worked there each summer of her four years at the University. “In a lot of ways, my experiences at Cascades and North Park impacted each other,” Fisher says. “I took what I learned from both unique environments and applied it to the other.”

Fisher earned a degree in biblical and theological studies in 2006, then returned to Cascades. “I interned in the program department the year after I graduated, and haven’t left since!” she says. Today, Fisher serves as program director at Cascades, overseeing a staff of more than 70 total, and managing the program staff of more than 40 each summer. 

Students sit on a dock.

“I wanted to work at Cascades in particular because of the impact that it had in my life,” Fisher says. “I met God here as a camper, and I deeply believe in the work that’s been done here.” In her role as program director, Fisher enjoys working in church relations, marketing and promotion, and year-round retreat-planning. “I’ve grown in leadership, responsibility, humility, and faithfulness,” she says. “Cascades has become a second home, a second family to me.”

Joel Brand, a 2013 University graduate with a degree in youth ministry, feels similarly about his camp experiences. “I wanted to continue to work at a Covenant camp after my graduation because it is such a life-giving thing to me for being in ministry,” he says. 

Brand served as a counselor at Covenant Pines Bible Camp in McGregor, Minn., in 2010 and 2011, then as summer program director in 2012 and 2013. “My North Park education took place on multiple campuses,” Brand says. “From September to May, it was on North Park’s campus, and from May to August, it was at Covenant Pines.” In September 2013, he was hired on the ministry staff of Pilgrim Pines Conference Center in Swanzey, N.H., where he currently serves as program director.

For Brand, the academic instruction received in University coursework was bolstered by the service and discipleship of students and staff experienced at camp. This combination offered Brand a “holistic education” which allowed him to “take what I know and live it out.” He felt strengthened throughout the school year by professors, peers, and University Ministries, and would then share that by building into campers through chapel services, devotionals, and friendship.

“At Pilgrim Pines, I’ve gotten to learn more about who I am, in a supportive community that has helped me process it,” says Brand. This experience has reinforced his commitment to the values of the Evangelical Covenant Church, he says. “My desire is not to be great, but to be faithful, so that God can be great. This had been a theme throughout my college career that has extended into my time at Pilgrim Pines.” This fall, Brand will return to campus to attend North Park Theological Seminary.

“How to truly serve others”

Students find that through the hands-on experience they gain in camp positions, they acquire skills that will better enable them to pursue their chosen careers. Kristin Theilen, a history and secondary education major, took a position at Covenant Pines this summer in hopes that the experience would confirm her desire to work with youth after graduation. 

“I wanted to work in a formal setting for the summer, and Covenant Pines is the camp I grew up at and have loved for a long time,” Theilen says. She has found that her primary responsibility as a counselor is to serve her campers and encourage their relationships with God. “The values I’ve experienced through University Ministries have really applied at camp,” she says.

These values are further enforced as students grow in servant leadership, says Joel Rude, president of the Association of Covenant Camps and Conference Centers. “Many summer staff go on to be influential in their local churches, either in obvious leadership roles or essential support roles,” he says. “The experience deepens understanding of personal giftedness, builds self-confidence, and plants and waters seeds of disciple-making.” 

Anna Lund, a nursing major with a Scandinavian studies minor, is in her fifth summer on staff at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp and Retreat Center in Lake Geneva, Wis. Having first served as a counselor for two years, Lund is spending her third summer working as a student nurse.

In her position, Lund is able to gain valuable nursing experience, and feels responsible for ensuring that campers are safe and healthy throughout their stay. “Camp has shown me how to truly serve others, and that true service is done in selflessness and humility,” she says. “Professionally, camp has taught me how to address difficult situations efficiently and effectively, with as much grace as possible.”

North Park and Covenant Harbor are Lund’s “two homes away from home,” she says. “My time at North Park and Covenant Harbor feel so intertwined not only because of the people I live with and serve alongside, but the lessons and situations God has brought into my life through both of these places,” says Lund. “I have been able to develop extremely close friendships with people year-round, experience ministry in a tangible way, and take ownership of my faith.”  

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