A ministry of Broad Street United Methodist Church, Wonders in the Woods consists of multiple camps each year.
The camps take place in Johnston Woods in McDonald and are coordinated by Mary and David Ketchersid.
“It’s really been fun because when we started out 26 years ago, we started out with just a few people and we slept in the pavilion; we didn’t even sleep in tents. It was just a couple of nights,” coordinator Mary Ketchersid said. “Then it just grew.”
She said at first a longer camp was only offered for younger children, then as they grew and wanted to keep coming to the camp, the number of camps for different age groups grew.
Now, camps for grades 3 and 4 and camps for rising fifth- and sixth-graders from the Unity Center after-school program are also offered. A camp to train youth counselors for the next year is also offered. Each camp has about 16 campers.
“We have a Bible study every day, we have worship and we work hard throughout the week in helping to establish community,” Ketchersid said.
She said the camps try to teach responsibility and working together for the good of the entire group.
“It’s teaching those concepts of … caring for our environment, one another and building up the community as Jesus taught us,” Ketchersid said.
The campsite features space for multiple tents and parking. A pavilion with benches and tables provides a roofed area for meals and crafts. A bathhouse provides showers for the groups to use. A lake near the campsite provides opportunities for paddleboats, canoes and fishing.
The first camp of the season is always a camp for the counselors to finish setting up and receive additional training.
Ketchersid said she hopes campers come away with “a closer relationship with God … (and learn) to live in God’s word and take care of it, and how to live in community.”
The camp was a good opportunity for students to take a break from technology and enjoy nature.
“The pace is different. It’s just a totally different world for a few days out here,” Ketchersid said.
The camping experience goes beyond sleeping in a tent as many of the meals are made by the campers and the staff.
Camp cooking kicks off the first night with “hobos.”
“A hobo is you take a piece of aluminum foil and decide what kind of meat you want, like a hamburger patty or a chicken patty … then you can add hash browns, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, onion, mushroom soup if you want to, some people put peanut butter in, hot sauce, jalapeños, whatever you want,” Mary Ketchersid said.
The aluminum foil is then wrapped around the meat and toppings to seal the “hobo.”
Traditionally, the “hobo” is cooked on a campfire. However, since the camps have grown to more than 40 people, including counselors and staff, they cook them in an oven.
“And it all mixes together and it’s wonderful,” Mary Ketchersid said.
Each camper makes their own.
Many of the campers have not had a lot of experience cooking.
“I love to cook, myself, so it is fun to have that new experience with them,” Ketchersid said.
Former campers often return as youth counselors and later senior directors after high school because they enjoyed the experience so much. The majority of the counselors in training are rising seventh-graders or older. The third camp is for training counselors for the next summer. These students will be counselors next year for the younger children.
Counselor in training Karley Buckner said she wanted to become a counselor because of the fun she had while she was a camper.
“I’ve always wanted to be one when I was a camper,” Buckner said.
She said one of the most important things she learned from the counselors in training camp was how to work together with the other counselors and treasure the experience.
“I’ve always loved being outside in the wilderness and all the stuff we do at camp,” counselor in training Jenne Mosley said. “I just like helping little kids.”
This year saw the tradition of leadership in the camps take a new turn as the camp had its first intern solely dedicated to Wonders in the Woods.
Intern Steele Wright said he grew up attending Winders in the Woods each summer.
“I was a counselor all through high school,” Wright said.
After graduating from college in May, Wright applied for the Wonders in the Woods intern position.
“It’s definitely more responsibility because now you’re an employee of the church,” Wright said.
He said the position has given him the opportunity to see a lot of the behind the scenes aspects of the camp.
Wright said he was impacted by counselor Matt Holden, and this made him want to be a counselor.
Wright has in turn inspired others.
“Since I was a camper and Steele has always been above us and seeing how he impacted us I wanted to have that same impact on younger kids,” youth counselor Kameron Mehling said. “They (campers) are never going to tell you how much they appreciate you coming out and camping with them for four or five days.”
Youth counselor Kendall Mehling said he has enjoyed the new community he gets to experience by being a counselor. He said returning campers provide counselors with a chance to watch them grow up.
“You build a bond that you’ll have later. Once these campers become counselors, they will build bonds with the future campers and it just good to see the new generations coming up.”
Camp traditions such as crafts and a camp song are also included.
Crafts change from year to year. This year younger campers made birdhouses and older campers are making “strum sticks.”
“It’s a rhythm instrument basically, native to this area,” Mary Ketchersid said.
The instrument is constructed by nailing metal bottle caps to a large dowel. The instrument is held vertically and tapped rhythmically to create a beat or it can be struck with a smaller piece of wood.
A camp song is also a yearly tradition.
Ketchersid said sometimes the camp chooses a popular song and changes the words. Other times they pick a worship song.
This year the camp song is the Rend Collective Experiment’s (a band from Northern Ireland) version of “Build Your Kingdom here.”
A special themed night rounds out the camp experience. This year is a Fiesta, featuring traditional Mexican food and hat dance.