The annual Camp Day provides opportunities for students to meet with prospective employees, as well as for ministry and sports and recreation majors to explore a future career. (Photos by Andrea Cable)

Summer’s a’comin’: Annual Camp Placement Day targets prospective staffers

With a virtual campfire flickering on a screen, camp songs ringing through the Campus Center at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and display tables from 27 camps circling the space, Camp Day returned this week.

Students met with representatives from 21 camps around the country.

“I always enjoy Camp Day just to reconnect with camps from around the country,” says EMU senior Malachi Bontrager, an outdoor ministry and adventure leadership major. “Growing up as a camp kid, I have probably been to 60 percent of these camps, so there are a lot of familiar faces.”

Bontrager shared during the Camp Day chapel service about growing up at Camp Deerpark in southern New York, which brought urban kids from New York City to have experiences in nature, and his later gap year experience at a camp in Florida that offered similar, but longer-term, experiences.

“I fell in love with nature,” Bontrager says. “I think nature is the catalyst for educating young people to be successful. You just have to say, ‘Wow! This is awesome. This is God.’ ”

Doug Phillips ‘82, director of Brethren Woods camp and retreat center in nearby Keezletown, Virginia, says he has been coming to Camp Day since it began more than 30 years ago.

“It’s a good chance to connect and network with folks at other camps,” says Phillips, who majored in social work and minored in outdoor ministry at EMU. “And we have always had at least one or two summer staff from here.”

Senior Malachi Bontrager, who has worked at two camps, leads worship during the annual Camp Day.

Phillips says his camp employed four EMU students last summer, and he has hired one of them—senior Amanda Helfrich of Gettysburg, Ohio—as assistant program director following her graduation this spring.

Dean Williams, program director at Highland Retreat in Bergton, Virginia, says his camp program has had a steady pipeline to EMU, too, but the way those connections happen has changed over the years.

“The biggest difference from when I first came to this day 21 years ago is that students used to come by based on your display. Now they check out the website beforehand, so we talk to fewer students, but a higher percentage of them end up on staff. The personal contact is what makes this significant.”

Williams says he typically has three to five “really good contacts” at the event. He also holds a pizza party after the formal schedule is done, encouraging former staff to invite their friends.

“It’s your staff who are on campus here who are your best recruiters,” Williams says. “I have had very few experiences where staff have steered me the wrong way.”

Sandy Brownscombe, chair of EMU’s physical education and recreation department, has noticed the changing trends, too. Most students who work at the camps come from a variety of majors, not just outdoor ministry or physical education.

Brownscombe, who has taught at EMU since 1978, says Camp Day, which is co-hosted with the Mennonite Camping Association, will continue.

“It’s a really exciting event, and we’ll keep it going,” Brownscombe says. “The camps appreciate the quality of students they get when they come to EMU, and as you look around many of the directors are EMU alumni. We have a commitment to all the camps, and it’s an important role we share.”

In addition, students in two classes “Recreation and Sport and Modern Society ” and “Introduction to Youth Ministry” attended the event. Pastoral assistants and ministry assistants, who work with campus ministries to minister to students in the residence halls, also attended a special session.