Celebrating a 60th anniversary might seem like a reach to some. Sure, 60 is a nice, round number, but it doesn’t get the attention a 50- or 75-year celebration gets, for whatever the reason. But that didn’t stop Krislund Camp and Conference Center in Madisonburg, PA, from pulling out all the stops this summer for a gathering honoring six decades of ministry to those in the presbyteries of Huntingdon, Northumberland and Carlisle.
More than 220 people turned out on a Saturday in mid-August to not only see what is new with the facilities but also to reconnect with people they haven’t seen in years, folks who also consider Krislund an important part of their faith journey.
“Krislund has not always been the best at maintaining relationships, and we finally are reaching a point where we have rebuilt these relationships,” said Kealy Daye, Krislund’s program director. “We have tried so hard. In my five years here, I can’t tell you the number of people that I have just cold called or messaged on Facebook because they commented on someone else’s post about Krislund. It has taken five years of really tiny acts to get 200 people to engage with Krislund again.
“It just felt like if we’re going to be successful for the next 10, 20 or 60, we can’t wait until 75 to engage these people. In another 15 years we could totally lose the support that we’re starting to gain now. We wanted to celebrate with these people, we wanted to invite them back, and we wanted to remind them that camp is really important and it’s still important to kids today like it was to you. And if it’s going to remain that way we still really need a lot of support. Your volunteerism, your time, your donations – we really need all of those things.”
That message was received loud and clear by those who attended. Nearly $10,000 was raised for Krislund during the celebration through live and silent auctions.
“Most of them (who attended) were former staff members,” Kealy continued. “We had a decent number of churches that brought entire vans of people up. Some churches that had been especially faithful to Krislund over the years really showed up that day for us. I was really happy to see some of our recent campers and their families show up, that they got to be a part of celebrating their camp, seeing the impact it has 60 years down the line. It was kind of cool to see those different groups all connecting over this place.”
The community was invited to tour Krislund in the morning of the celebration and partake in some of the activities the camp has to offer, like the zipline, rock wall, giant swing and wagon rides that traveled around some of the 800-acre property in Centre County. Self-guided tours of the buildings were also an option for those in attendance.
As the day went on, events in the afternoon and evening were tailored toward camp alumni and closer “friends of Krislund” like volunteers. A hike to the “Bald Spot,” which provides a scenic view of the valley from a nearby mountain, and time around a campfire with singing were also part of the later-day activities.
“We tried to provide a lot of time for fellowship and catching up with people,” Kealy explained. “I heard from a lot of people that, ‘Wow, these are my friends that I haven’t seen in 20 years. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see them again. I’m so thankful just to spend an afternoon with them.’”
The auctions were important pieces to the anniversary celebration. Not only did it provide an avenue for people to support the camp financially by purchasing donated items like gift baskets, sports memorabilia, handmade quilts and furniture and even a hand-turned chess set, but there were also things to bid on that had sentimental meaning to the camp. For instance, refurbished wagon wheels from the camps’ covered wagon were available along with a few handmade end tables created from wood from the camp by a longtime Krislund volunteer, the late Jim Finley.
All these items and the day of reconnecting helped solidify the relational aspect of the camp that continues to be the backbone of Krislund.
“We have always been incredibly relationally focused,” Kealy said. “We are a very well-resourced camp. We have the ropes course at these beautiful facilities, and at the end of the day what people talk about is singing songs with their co-counselor, the hikes that they go on together and these relationships. We really try to nurture those a lot and focus on those relationships 50 years down the line.”
These connections wouldn’t be possible without an important volunteer and support group that sees that things get taken care of when a need arises. It’s a special bond with the camp that doesn’t go unnoticed by those who witness it on a regular basis.
“I have never worked anywhere where people are just so willing to give of themselves,” Kealy said. “There is never a need here that people do not step up and volunteer for. People just step up. There is no question of it. They’re just so committed to this place, and it’s because we’re so focused on those relationships and nurturing one another that it creates this culture of wanting to give back.”
One example of this is the ongoing Caps for Krislund drive that has been occurring at the camp for a year. This initiative consists of collecting bottle caps, driving them to a facility in Indiana and trading them in for picnic tables or benches that are made from those bottle caps. It takes more than 600 pounds of bottle caps to make one picnic table, and it’s Krislund’s volunteers who are sorting the caps and driving the hundreds of miles each way to make this outreach happen.
“It is completely volunteer run,” Kealy said of the Caps for Krislund program. “We really have not spent much staff time managing this because our volunteers have been really passionate about it, and they’ve been managing it themselves.”
The 60th anniversary celebration also helped wrap up the summer camping season. While there is nothing staff-run planned for the fall at Krislund, Kealy is organizing some new programs for next year, including confirmation and elder retreats.
“A big push for us next year is creating that programming and inviting our elder and session groups out here to show them how valuable Krislund still is and how much we have for all of our groups, not just camper groups,” Kealy said.
“We’re really excited for what’s coming next. This summer our camper numbers were down very slightly, but when we looked into it, we realized that what was actually happening was our day campers who used to come for eight weeks have turned into residential campers who are now coming for three (weeks). It turns out the programs are working exactly as we hoped they would. They’re becoming overnight campers, and they’re staying longer. They’re being a part of our core programming here.”
While teens are seemingly the focus at many camps, Krislund has found that a different demographic is actually benefiting more from its programs.
“Krislund is not just a place to send your kids,” Kealy said. “We serve more adults every year than we do kids because our retreats are serving people 10 months of the year while summer camp is 2-3 (months). Krislund can create a life-changing impact in an adult’s life just as much as it can in the lives of the kids that we serve.”
Following a pandemic that turned the camping world upside down and left much of this ministry in doubt, Krislund is rebounding nicely and returning to its roots by connecting campers, volunteers and staff through a facility that was built exactly for that purpose.
“You can’t come visit Krislund without feeling God’s presence here,” Kealy concluded. “It is just so tangible. It was really special at the anniversary to connect a lot of our alumni with staff and campers. Every year I tell my staff we do this in hopes that 30, 40, 50 years down the line we get to hear the stories that these people are telling us.
“It’s so amazing to actually get to see the fruits of what God is doing here. It has been so refreshing and renewing to see all that coming to fruition, to see the work of some program director 40 years ago and see the impact that they made and know that we have the opportunity to do the same thing. Camping is still so incredibly important.”