What Was Your First Summer Camp Experience?

by | Aug 1, 2019

Photo caption:  Mae Wong, a councilor, with one of the neighborhood children.  At the time, Mae was a fine arts freshman at Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, PA.

What was your first summer camp experience? Was it a classic sleep away with roasted marshmallows and time in the outdoors? Or was it closer to home, maybe in Washington, DC?

The Diocese offered sleep away opportunities for students entering 8th and 9th graders (or Junior High) in the 1940s and 1950s at Camp Strawderman in Columbia Furnace, Virginia. “A large mountain farm, 12 minutes from Woodstock, Virginia, where cabins and an outdoor chapel, the Chapel of the Pines, offer an ideal setting for six days of fellowship, study and recreation for young people of the diocese.” Shrine Mont, in Orkney Springs, Virginia, was promoted for Senior High students (age 15 years and up). 

Closer to home, in the 1960s, St. Stephen and the Incarnation poured resources into a summer day camp for children from the parish and the neighborhood. Five days a week, beginning in July and August of 1961, the “inter-racial and inter-denominational” staff of college students with experience with youth work lived in the Rectory or their Church House. They partnered with the clergy to offer a church service, trips to a reserved space in Rock Creek Park, swim lessons at the Jewish Community Center pool, and lessons in art, sewing, music, dramatics, and athletics.  

The children’s families were involved as well. In order to “stimulate parental cooperation and interest,” adults were required to personally register the children and pay $5, if they were able. They were offered small tasks to assist with the program and parents’ nights were an opportunity to show what was going on during the day and to “air various neighborhood concerns.” In later years, the meetings served as a “sounding board for community needs and resources as seen by the neighborhood residents themselves.” 

Photo caption: Songfest around the campfire at the Junior High Summer Conference, at Camp Strawderman, led by the Rev. Harry B. Dalzell (far left) in charge of Recreation

There were also trips to the country. A partnership with St. Francis, Potomac brought a busload of children far from the city to dig for fishing worms; visit prize cattle; watch a horse being shod; and to pick plums, apples, and tomatoes–and to immediately consume them! The last activity of the day was a swim in a parishioner’s pool, watched over by young people from St. Francis.

Where did the money come from for the ministry? Donations from St. Margaret’s, St. Alban’s, St. Patrick’s, and women’s and other groups from other parishes. In 1966, financial aid came from the Office of Economic Opportunity, the National Youth Corps and other Government agencies. The Diocese, working with the Department of Christian Social Services, filled gaps in financing amounting.

 The program began in 1961 serving 200 children. By 1966 the report was that 375 children participated with 64 adults listed as staff. The Rector, the Rev. William Wendt, said “…we believe that the Church has an obligation to play its part in bringing these children and people to the healing love of Jesus Christ. By keeping its doors open and by demonstrating its concern for the people around it, the Church can make an indelible mark on the life of the whole community.”

Pictures and history brought to you by Susan Stonesifer, diocesan historiographer