“The first time it was brought to me, I wasn’t sure. I thought, ‘Kids don’t want to go to camp and do math and reading. Is it even possible?’”
As it turns out, it was possible – and even successful.
Beginning in 2004, Camp Agapé, located off Route 18 in Mt. Pleasant Township, went from an outdoor ministry to an outdoor ministry with a focus on literacy and math.
Providing an educational program in a residential camp is not the norm. But, for Camp Agapé, it’s working.
According to Wingert, the facility’s director, campers who complete one week of literacy camp gain one grade level of reading, on average, as determined by a test given at the beginning and end of the week. Those who go through the math program improve their grade by 35 percent.
The key, said Wingert, is giving the campers one-on-one attention and creating an enjoyable learning environment.
“A lot (of campers) come because they know it’s fun,” she said.
A look at the history of Camp Agapé, Ohio Valley Lutheran Bible Camp Association member and American Camp Association accredited, reveals years of diligence by those who strongly believed in providing youth with an opportunity to spend time outdoors and grow in their faith.
In 1961, American Lutheran Church congregations were organizing camping trips at Raccoon Creek State Park. By 1963, the ministry began looking for properties in the area on which to build a permanent camp. Many were considered before the current land near Hickory, then owned by James McGugin, was found.
“He had a vision this would be a wonderful place for kids,” Wingert said.
McGugin, a farmer whose family had owned the land since the Revolutionary War, sold his 221 acres to the ministry for the moderate price of $9,000. An adjoining 73 acres was purchased from the Locq family in 1967.
The camp has weathered financial hardships and times of uncertainty. From 1985 to 1988, the ministry ran solely on the time given by volunteers.
Their financial situation is now secure, but Wingert said throughout it all, the camp has fulfilled its mission of “bringing people together in Christ.”
“Campers learned to overcome the tribulations of home sickness, bad weather and minor inconveniences in a way which will help them to rise above the hardships they will face in life,” wrote Cliff Wood, camp director, in 1968.
Today, said Wingert, “We try to live our name, which is God’s love. God gave this to us. The people involved have invested time, money and love to help children. It isn’t nothing. It’s important.”
“Agapé,” Greek for “unconditional love,” was so named in 1966. Campers can either come for a traditional Bible camp experience, or for math, reading, art, science, music and drama learning camps. There are both day campers and residential campers, who stay for five nights and take part in activities like swimming, hiking, bonfires, games, singing and crafts.
Although many improvements have been made to the land and existing buildings, the camp has remained largely unchanged, offering dense forests and wide views of the sky and valleys below.
“We’ve not hurried to build a lot or disturb a lot,” Wingert said.
The farmhouse McGugin lived in now serves as an infirmary, camp kitchen and summer staff housing.
Additions to the property include two cabins with electric wiring and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a man-made pond used for fishing and a recreation center that serves as a dining room, classroom and gathering space.
Wingert likes to sit in the rec center kitchen, listening to the “quiet energy” of the campers working through a problem.
She became involved in the late 1970s, when her three children were campers. They would come home from Agapé and complain about the heat and the bugs.
“But at the end, it was always, ‘But I loved it.’ I wondered what was going on there,” Wingert said.
She began to volunteer one week a summer, then all summer, then began running the place with the help of Joe Edwards, assistant director, and her family. Her husband is now president of the ministry board, one daughter is the summer program director and the other daughter spends a week every summer teaching.
Volunteers from the area and several pastors act as teachers to the campers, some of whom go on to become counselors.
Former camper Monica Munsch is now a counselor, helping as many as 20 campers per week.
“The most important thing is watching the children grow in spirit and knowledge,” Munsch said.
Wingert also is a proponent of guiding campers both in faith and education. A scientist, she has a doctorate and has studied at Dartmouth College, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. She was a crystallographer, studying atoms for 15 years, then teaching in private schools for 15 years.
Now, in the quiet surroundings of Camp Agapé, her academic background is evident as the campers gather pond specimens to study under microscopes or make sandpaper from scratch, upon which they draw lifelike horses.
Wingert said she sees God’s handiwork in the natural surroundings of the grounds.
She quoted a favorite saying from a camper as he took in the night sky during a campfire, “God must be a wonderful artist.”
[“source – observer-reporter.com”]