Summer camp is an American tradition. Children can run free in the beauty of nature, eat a snack in the shade of a tree, or stare in fascination at a wild bird or animal passing nearby.
However, in some of Oklahoma City’s urban neighborhoods, children don’t have the opportunity or resources to experience summer camps. These children grow up in a world of concrete and neon lights, facing problems and temptations beyond their years. For the last decade, a group of dedicated individuals have created a camp in the very heart of the city for these urban youth. It is a hidden oasis of trees, streams and wildlife where children receive encouragement, guidance and love— a place called Shiloh Camp.
Nestled off of 63rd and Broadway, Shiloh Camp is 40 acres of fun and activity. Every summer, the Christian camp hosts six one-week long sessions where campers experience everything from basketball to mountain biking to fishing, as well as tackling a ropes course and learning about their faith.
Executive Director Stephan Moore believes the experience is one of fun as well as personal growth. “The camp makes for a fun, adventurous experience where [campers] are learning a lot about themselves. The kids gain new confidences and learn how to do things they’ve never done before. By going through the activities, like the high elements part of the ropes course, they learn team work and to conquer fears,” he said.
Students arrive each morning to an opening message full of skits, games and fun. Then they break into small groups (called “family groups”) made up of 8-10 fellow campers along with an adult leader and assistant. The family groups experience the various activities together, allowing the leaders to invest in the students and build relationships with them. Stephan believes that these relationships can truly change the lives of campers.
“If there is any one thing that helps a kid chart a new course, a new direction, it is that they have a meaningful adult relationship in their life. Somebody who listens to them, somebody who loves them, somebody who speaks into their life in a positive and encouraging way. Shiloh Camp provides that, in the form of counselors and activity leaders,” he said.
After a week full of energy and excitement, campers invite their families to join them at a picnic on Friday night to see the wonder of the camp for themselves. The campers put on a talent show, but the night’s true centerpiece is the award ceremony recognizing the value of each camper. “We give out what we call character awards in each of the family groups,” said Stephan. “The family group leaders pick out at least two positive character traits about their kids and stand up and present awards to them in front of their parents. A lot of our children at Shiloh have never received any kind of award, and what they receive really touches their heart.”
Stephan remembers one particular camper from last year who was positively impacted by the character awards. “Last summer there was a little boy who was withdrawn and very shy. There wasn’t a lot of light in his eyes. He won the Barnabas award for being encouraging. When he came on stage and we put the award around his neck, the whole crowd was clapping. His smile almost broke his face, it was so big. You could see it was just filling him up on the inside.”
Once all awards have been passed out, each child receives a backpack filled with school supplies for the upcoming school year. With the camp able to hold 80 campers each of its six sessions, that adds up to a lot of backpacks to be stuffed. “It is a massive undertaking,” said Stephan. “Churches and businesses provide money and supplies, and then volunteers put on a massive assembly line packing those bags. It is really neat to see the community at large getting involved in reaching out to the young people here. A lot of hands are involved in making it happen!”
The community around Shiloh Camp comes together to make the experience possible. In a similar way, Stephan and his wife, Scotia, come together with their children to make Shiloh Camp more than just an occupation. It has become a family affair. "We have seven children ages nine and under, with one on the way,” said Scotia. “One of the things I was personally excited about in coming to work at Shiloh was getting to do this as a family. All of our children can be out there having fun. Our nine-year-old was excited to help with the horses. Our seven-year-old twins were sweeping off the front porch. Getting to do this as a family has been a whole lot of fun.”
Stephan and the leadership of the camp are currently exploring ways to expand the camp to a year-round ministry. “Camp has such a great impact on the lives of these kids,” said Stephan. “As we go forward into the future, we want to extend our ministry by reaching out to their families.”
Ultimately, Stephan, Scotia and their staff believe all the planning and preparing is worth it when they see a child encouraged and inspired. “I think that so many children, especially urban children, deal with a lot of adult and mature issues,” said Scotia. “They come in [to camp] as mini grown-ups. But they get a week of being loved on and running around in the sun, playing games, even riding horses. We see this awakening in them of curiosity for life. By the end of the week, we see them laugh out loud, wrestle around and just be children. The children learn about God’s word, and we instill values in them that can carry them back into their situations, equipped to deal with things differently.”
Because of the ministry of Shiloh Camp, the lives of Oklahoma City youth are being changed every summer.
Shiloh Camp is open to youth ages 8-16, and focuses on youth who aren’t able to attend other camps. Stephan Moore said, “Shiloh Camp was created to serve deserving kids who would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in a camp experience. The tuition is $20 for the whole week. Our goal is to make it accessible to children and families.”
Want to get involved?
There are three ways to get involved and help Shiloh Camp achieve its mission.
Meals: Churches, civic organizations, and other groups provide all the meals during each week of camp. If you are interested in helping to provide a meal for the youth, contact the office at 405-858-7011.
School Supplies: Each camper ends the week with a backpack filled to the brim with important school supplies to take home. This massive school supply project is organized through Camp Shiloh’s office, volunteers offering time or donations are welcome.
Staff: Camp Shiloh’s impact is achieved in large part by the counselors who travel with each family group and stay connected to the campers all week. If you know a person, typically around college age, who would be a great fit for the camp, download a staff application. To learn more and download a camp or staff application form, visit the Camp’s website (shilohcamp.org) or call 405-858-7011.
Ben Davis spent many summers enjoying the camaraderie and excitement of summer camps. When not writing, working, studying, cleaning or doing laundry, he enjoys a good book and a good jog.