Camp Makes a Difference

Karen Scribano   -  

Even though the temperatures are low outside and snow is in the forecast every few days, the Nicol family is already making plans for summer.  Registration is now open for Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp for summer 2023, and Jared and Toni Nicol will be signing up their three kids.  “We definitely make camp at Riverside a priority,” says Toni, “and we’ve been blessed to be able to do that because of the Kids2Camp program at St. Mark.” 

Kids2Camp is a fundraising program that grants participating families up to $300 per camper each summer.  “This has become an even bigger blessing to us with three kids now going to camp, as it would cost us around $1500 to send them all this summer,” continues Toni. “We got involved nine years ago, when Jate was first eligible for camp after his 2nd-grade year, and each of the kids has started at that same age. The first year we said, ‘you are going,’ and every year since they have wanted to go.  The first time Jate went, he said it was the best week of his entire year. He didn’t want to come home!”

Jate, now 15, has always loved meeting new friends at camp, swimming, playing basketball, and learning the songs during chapel. Over the years he has grown to appreciate more about the Riverside experience. He says, “It’s a good way to get out of your routine.  It definitely strengthens my faith because you see all the people your own age around you and it’s like a big community. It’s fun to be a part of that. After you go, you just feel refreshed.”

For his sisters, Sadie (13) and Audrey (10), camp was the first time they spent a night away from home. Sadie liked having her big brother there the same week her first year to show her around, but she also made new friends. Audrey enjoyed sleeping in a top bunk, getting to know a cabin full of girls, and having caring leaders who helped her feel comfortable. Both girls echoed Jate’s love of chapel and all the songs and dances that they learn there. “The songs are just in our heads!” Says dad Jared, “They’ve all had such great experiences there – spending time with other kids at the same point in their faith journey and sharing what it means to know God. They come back and sing the songs for a couple weeks – it stays with them.”

One of Sadie’s other favorite activities during the camp day is “God time, where you feel God around you and feel nature around you.” Last summer, she attended Riverside’s Ranch Camp with a cousin, and experienced nature through horse rides and caring for the animals. For all the campers, one of the most impactful experiences is the closing mime performed by the counselors and leaders, in which they portray the story of Christ’s last days and crucifixion.

“As a parent, you are looking for ways to help your kids grow in their faith, and Riverside is a cool opportunity just because it is their own experience,” says Jared. “They get the chance to be free to make their own choices about the programming they go to and how much they participate. On the way home, when we ask them what they liked, they say, ‘Everything!’ They really do seem refreshed – so alive and excited about what they learned and what they did.” Toni adds, “Because of their current ages, they all go on different weeks now, but they still share the experience. They ask each other, ‘Did you do this?  Did you see that?’ It’s fun to watch them connect with each other about it.”

The Nicols are so thankful to the congregation for their support and generosity of Kids2Camp, whether that be through the purchase of gift cards, direct monetary donations, or participation in the annual garage sale. They also encourage more parents to take advantage of it. Parents are asked to volunteer their time to Kids2Camp events (weekly gift card sales and annual garage sale) or St. Mark Kids & Students ministries, and to also purchase a specified amount of gift cards through RaiseRight each year. In exchange, they can receive campership dollars from St. Mark. Jared reiterates what a blessing it has been for their family, “There are so many expenses associated with kids’ activities, that it’s so great to have some financial support to help.” Toni continues, “I hope interest continues to increase, because it really is such a great program, and it helps kids get to camp where they connect and grow.”

Sounds like a great reason to do some summer planning!