Courageous Love Goes Camping: Compass at Camp Lutherwood

Many of us can remember our camp experiences growing up as if they were yesterday. The wood cookie name tags, tie dying T-shirts, splashing in the creek, and singing around big bonfires under the stars. There are few things quite like it and this summer Camp Lutherwood Oregon, a ministry of the Oregon Synod, is taking that experience to a whole new level.

Established in Eugene in 1959, Camp Lutherwood Oregon has grown into a year-round facility with the hope of making the camp experience accessible for all by partnering with outdoor school groups, offering programs for adults, and seeking to ensure equitable access to the outdoors.

After the Oregon wildfire season of 2020, Camp Lutherwood Oregon faced an additional set of questions regarding accessibility to outdoor experiences. Many children and families in surrounding areas had experienced significant loss, trauma and displacement during the record-breaking wildfire season. In response, camp leaders assessed their role in providing healing for impacted communities.

In partnership with a long-term recovery group that formed in response to the wildfires, Camp Lutherwood Oregon developed an overnight camp program for middle school youth affected by the fires. The curriculum was based on Camp Noah, a day camp for elementary-aged campers created by Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota. The pilot program successfully connected 17 kids with mental health services, understanding peers, and resiliency skills. Twelve months of careful tweaking and conversation with trauma-informed care professionals followed, and Camp Lutherwood Oregon will launch Compass this summer. The one-of-a-kind, weeklong camp is designed for youth and teens to share their emotions, connect with one another, and strengthen their sense of safety.

Compass will provide a supportive, safe space for middle and high schoolers to process their experiences with the wildfires and learn some skills that help them continue to process and move forward in their lives. The camp experience will focus on accessibility for every young person with a distinct focus on the physical, mental, spiritual, and social wellness of kids from all backgrounds and beliefs.

– Melissa Singletary, associate director at Camp Lutherwood

Compass was created in close collaboration with mental health professionals, including a mental health specialist with a permanent role on summer staff. Plus, all camp staff are trained in trauma-informed care as part of a 10-day intensive staff orientation. Between 30 and 40 middle and high school youth from Lane County, Lincoln County, and the McKenzie area are expected to participate in the first-ever Compass experience in August.

Compass takes into account that these youth and their families deal with the trauma in a wide variety of ways. Every camper has a unique experience of the wildfires. Some lost everything, some heard sirens, some were evacuated from smoke, etc. Camp staff learned from last year’s cohort that while some may be anxious to tell their stories, they longed to talk about their experiences and hadn’t had many spaces to process them, making the space for the Oregon Synod’s core value of mutual accompaniment to be nurtured in the Compass program all the more crucial. Singletary says

“We’ve learned through this process that everybody in our community wants to help these kids who were impacted by wildfires and address the long-term impacts. We are grateful that we have had nothing but support as we work to develop and launch this program with other partners in the community.”

Singletary also reminds us that this isn’t a short-term problem.

“Fires are going to continue, and we are working really hard to make this program sustainable and affordable for all who may need to access it.” A $200,000 grant from Lutheran Disaster Services will aid the budding program for the coming three years, as well as subsidizing the cost to participants. Staff hope to expand the program to serve adults, younger children, and entire families who’ve experienced trauma. Compass has drawn attention from peer organizations, and Lutherwood is slated to present its work at the Lutheran Outdoor Ministry Conference later this year.

Your dollars given to the Oregon Synod General Fund and directly to Camp Lutherwood help make the Compass Program a healing reality for communities here in Oregon. A week at camp costs about $550 to put on, but Compass campers are only asked to pay $25 so that all families, regardless of income level, are able to access this healing space. Camp Lutherwood Oregon is committed to supporting these youth and their families in the aftermath of wildfire trauma. If you’d like to be part of this work or if you have connections with a community that might benefit from Compass, email the camp office or call 541-998-6444.