Posted by & filed under Special Occasions.

Clouds lightly layered the sky as our caravan of cars and vans pulled out of the driveway and headed toward a mountain ridge on Easter morning.  It was minutes before seven and chilly.

Arriving at the top of the ridge, people grabbed seat cushions and settled in groups on the grass.

The view was breathtaking!

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As the sun burst through the clouds in glorious shades of red, warming our faces with its brightness, we sang songs of praise and worship.

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It was a special treat to have Michael visit us and talk about lessons he learned at camp.  Michael was a camper in the mountaineer group at Bald Eagle back in 1999.  Truth can be presented by anyone, but there is something profound about hearing it come from someone who has been in your shoes and the boys were spellbound.

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Later Chief Brian talked about when Michael was at camp.  Michael had a hard time at camp for awhile.  It took a long time for him to process the anger and unforgiveness he felt toward someone who had wronged him deeply.  For a long time, it felt like the darkness the world must have felt in those three days of Jesus being in the tomb.  Life was hard.

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But in the same way that there is always hope in the darkness, healing comes after pain.  Life follows after death.  It is the GLORIOUS story of a Cross that leads to redemption. The story of Easter reflected in our own lives and the lives of people around us.  Just as the sun spilled through the clouds to bring daylight after a cold, dark night.  Just as Jesus pierced the intense darkness of the world with the hope of redemption.  Just like that.  Light, glorious healing Christ light can dispel the nighttime in our hearts.

Today, Michael is a testament to the power of love as he loves his wife and sons well.  “Don’t ever forget,” he told our Mountaineers later in a small circle just before we dispersed, “family is important.  It’s what got you here and what you can always go back to.”

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Happy Easter!

Posted by & filed under Current Happenings.

Camp gets divided up into what we call sessions. Almost all the sessions are six weeks long, except for the one between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At the end of each session we have a party night before the boys head home for a few days to be with their families.

Party night is a fun time because all of camp gets together for supper and an evening of sharing. We do a lot of singing, talk about what happened during the session, and also about how we did on our goals. Each group gets a chance to share something as a group. Sometimes they sing a song, but often they will share a skit they’ve composed that tells a story about something that happened during the past session. Even when they choose to sing a song, the words often get changed to tell us a story.

The supervisors have been reading Farmer Boy at chuckwagon recently so the Pioneers acted out a school scene from those days.

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The Woodsmen have been enjoying (at least depending on who you ask!) going swimming at least once a month even if it means sometimes chopping ice first! After a little background skit, they regaled us with “Sweet Home Allegany.”

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The Mountaineers gave us the inside scoop on what it looks like to plan a skit for party night.  These guys are witty! It took me a few times of watching the video to catch all the puns!

Party night is fun and it’s a great time to learn the skill of public speaking. It’s a community spirit builder and a great way to get set up for going home on a visit. Home visits are about a lot of things. They are about reconnecting with family as well as learning how to work on our goals when we’re not surrounded by our group. And it goes without saying, it’s about going home and having fun with our families, too. Although, just maybe it’s all more connected than we even realize.  According to Jake, “You can’t have fun unless you’re working on your goals. You’re not going to have fun if you just sit around on the recliner.”

Sometimes party night holds a twinge of sadness because it’s often when graduations happen.  We get super excited about seeing a boy graduate and be able to go home, but it’s hard to see your friends leave.  And while we are excited about seeing what new things will happen in a chief’s life when he leaves, it’s always hard to say goodbye, especially for his group.  Tonight we said goodbye to Chief Jeff.  We’re thrilled to have Chief Antoine join us (look for his introduction on the staff page soon) as a chief in the Mountaineer group.

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Chief Jeff, all the best!

Posted by & filed under Current Happenings.

We often look at a boy when he graduates and see the significant ways he changed while he was at camp.  Sometimes in the big picture we forget to notice the little changes.  Changes that are like a window into the big changes that are in progress.

Tuesday night in chuckwagon after the boys were back from home visit Chief Leighton asked, “What did you do on home visit that you wouldn’t have done before camp?”

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Hands popped up everywhere (campers and chiefs alike) and the answers were so interesting!

:: cleaned my room

:: entered a bucksaw competition at the fair and WON hands down

:: played guitar

:: went on a canoe trip

:: cooked Japanese chicken for my family

:: fished with divers

:: mowed the grass for someone

:: made chicken marsala

:: made my bed

:: taught my parents how to play trees

:: offered advice to my siblings when there was a problem

:: talked redneck stuff with my dad (coming from a boy who lives in the city) 😉

:: taught my brothers how to solve problems and actually work on them

reading to learn

Isn’t that list fabulous?!! Boys learning to be responsible for their room …. offering to help others … cooking dinner … having fun in the great outdoors … working on relationships … So many wonderful, positive changes!

We’re thrilled everyone had a good home visit and can’t wait to dive into another session!

Posted by & filed under Current Happenings, Special Occasions.

July 4th is always a fun day at camp because all the groups and staff get to join in for some group activities!  We missed the Woodsmen group who had already left for their two and a half week canoe trip. This year the activities started at one o’clock with prison dodge ball, a game that meshes prisoners base and dodge ball.  You have to concentrate to remember who is on your team when you play with a big group!

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After that we did our annual cherry seed spitting contest.  Some of us are pleased to get air behind that cherry seed and some of us can hurtle those seeds over halfway across the basketball court!

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Grandpa Dolyn tried to fool us by blowing really loudly and throwing a cherry seed, but we weren’t fooled.  He actually shot that seed pretty far, but Grandma Donna outdid him. :)

Boys camp (53 of 183)(He’s tricky, isn’t he?)

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This year Anthony won with a whopping distance of 40 feet and 11 inches!!!

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A new activity for us this year was building rockets.  Each group and a staff group was given a mailing tube, duct table, and several sheets of card stock.  Chief Andrew showed us the one he built earlier at staff retreat so we had an idea how to design it and then we got busy.  Some of us made tail fins and others designed the cone for the head by shaping and taping paper.  We put gravel in the cone to help give it weight.  The duct tape held everything together, but it also helped us decorate our rocket.  We got judged on distance, design, and teamwork.  We launched the rockets with an air compressor from a spot just next to chuckwagon and they flew all the way into the upper playing field!

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It was high time for some water play after all that sweating! Miss Kathy told us about a game called tanks and engines.  You get into teams of two people.  One person is blindfolded and gets to throw water balloons at the other blindfolded people.  The other person on the team is the guide.  They can only talk to you, not touch you, and they need to help you get to the station to pick up more water balloons and give you verbal cues to help you aim at other people.  If you are blindfolded and you get hit with a water balloon you can take your blindfold off and you can’t throw any more balloons until the game is over.  It was fun {and funny to watch}!

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Thanks to all the rain, we got to swim in our own pond instead of driving somewhere else to a swimming hole.  That was awesome!

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Supper was a fabulous meal of pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, corn on the cob, and homemade black raspberry ice cream!

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The Pioneers worked on writing their articles while the ice cream was being cranked, but the Mountaineers waited until we got to our spot to watch the fireworks and were waiting on it to get dark.

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And, of course, the day ended with a bang as we watched fireworks explode over Cumberland!

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Posted by & filed under Current Happenings, Special Occasions.

There will always be a last time.

The last time you walk up trail to chuckwagon.

The last time you pack a shower bag.

The last time you circle up with your group.

The last time you help to lead a song at sharing time.

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Even the changes we most look forward to can have twinges of sadness.  It may mean saying goodbye to friends.  Sometimes it means trading what feels safe and known and successful for a bigger world that looks exciting, yet leaves us feeling a twinge of vulnerability.

At camp, nothing holds a candle to the thrill of going home to stay.  Boys dream of it.  They work hard on solving problems so they can move toward that day. Sometimes boys get so caught up in making graduation happen they forget that camp is actually about preparing for life, not just reaching graduation.  Sometimes in the middle of the road it feels as though he’ll never get there.  But slowly, slowly, boys start rethinking their actions.  They build a foundation of truth about who they are as a person and act out of good choices.

Graduation day, the day they never thought would get here, arrives.

It is a day of so much excitement and success.  A day of of hard work paid off, of being at home with your family again.

It is also a day of walking back into a world where you were previously unsuccessful.  At almost every graduation night someone chooses this song,

It should be so good. It should be so right.

Going home again to find the years that shaped my life

But shadows line the streets,

They whisper endlessly

And all I see are ghosts of my most painful memories.

Going home, going home

Lord, someday I’m going home

To a place where I know

I belong

Where the ghosts, and the fears, and the shadows disappear

Oh His angels bear us there,

Going home.

Going home is a wonderful, sacred gift. It is a gift of relationships restored, of second (or 475th) chances, of walking strong into life because of the resources we’ve been given.

Going home is just like many other moments in life.  It means a last time for something or with someone we love.  But every last time means a corresponding first time.  For every goodbye, there will be another hello.  For every ending, there will be a new beginning. For every graduation, there will be a new life to learn to live well.

We never leave it all behind.  Instead we walk forward into those new beginnings with the truths we’ve learned.

At graduation, a boy leaves camp physically; but he takes with him the ability to think about life and to solve problems as they arise.  He takes life skills and truths he’s learned about relationships.  In a sense we never completely say goodbye because camp becomes a part of who we are.  Those shadows that may be lurking in our new hellos? We’ve faced shadows before and learned that darkness cannot exist in the presence of light.

God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  Principles founded on the truths of Jesus will never be overcome by shadows.

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“Only be you strong, and very courageous, then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

— Joshua 1:7-8

Posted by & filed under Current Happenings, Education.

Once a session, except during the holidays, our family workers meet with the parents of the boys at camp in what we call Parent Group Meeting.  Primarily, it’s a way to learn about some of the basics of camp philosophy and structure. It’s also a chance for parents of campers to meet each other, swap stories, and encourage each other.

At one of the last meetings, Chief Andrew talked about problem solving.  We all know about problems because every person in the world deals with a few. At camp, there are four basic steps to working with problems.

1. Identify the problem.

2. Come up with a few possible solutions.

3. Try one!

4. Evaluate the outcome.

If it doesn’t work, go back to #2 and pick a different solution.  Too many times we look at problems as something to be afraid of and avoid at all costs.  But problems really aren’t to be feared.  They just mean we need to evaluate what needs to happen.  At the end of the meeting, Chief Andrew gave us all a little peg game.  Remember playing these at Cracker Barrel?  The idea is to jump one peg at a time (you can start with a blank hole wherever you prefer) and remove the one you’ve jumped.  If you jump them all and are left with one peg, you’re a genius.  If you have three or more left, well, let’s just say the Cracker Barrel version has less than flattering names for people like you!

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After we played twice (some of us did better with a second chance), we watched a presentation of how to jump every peg successfully.  Don’t you wish life were like that sometimes? Follow this three step program and everything will end perfectly.  But life doesn’t seem to work out that way.  Sometimes that means parts of life are painful.  But maybe that’s also why life is so beautiful, so  rich, so fulfilling.  When things get hard, we want to jump through (preferably over) the struggle to get to the other side.  Sometimes, though, it is in the struggle itself that we learn the most about ourselves, about life, about relationships, and about God.

Chief Andrew gave us all a chance to write about the evening, just like the boys write about their day at camp.  Here’s one synopsis.

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Posted by & filed under Current Happenings.

Christmas … the beautiful time when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus. The amazing gift of salvation from our Father God.  I love the way giving is wound into the very fabric of the Christmas Season.  At camp, we love to celebrate with a few traditions.

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During the first part of December, the boys help to string popcorn and cranberries.

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Wreaths and garlands are made for the windows in chuckwagon.

Chuck tents in campsites get decorated.

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Later we spend a day making cookies to share with our neighbors.

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That evening we pile onto two wagons embellished with sparkly lights and get shuttled around the neighborhood via tractor.  We sing our hearts out with the beautiful, old, familiar carols and give out big plates of yummy cookies!

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The traditional party night the night before homevisit begins turns into a beautiful Christmas Banquet!

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Pretty candles, a Christmas dinner, talk about Christmas along with our normal session evaluation, and a brand new sweatshirt for each camper!

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If Jesus hadn’t come, there would be no meaning in the carols.  If Jesus hadn’t taught us about love, we wouldn’t bother to share with others.  But He did come! Not just as a baby, but as the Word of God made flesh to dwell among us.  Today we get to experience the miraculous gift of His love within us!

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Be blessed this Christmas!

To see more images of our month, visit our facebook page.

Posted by & filed under Current Happenings, Special Occasions.

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Everyone likes to celebrate Thanksgiving, but I’d venture to guess there are few cooks who have half as much fun cooking the turkey as we do! Our celebration begins in the kitchen, er field.  When we cook turkey outdoors, we do it with flair!

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The night before our banquet, we take turns stoking and fanning an enormous fire built over a huge hole in the ground.  Got that? Dig a huge hole! Lay green logs over the hole.  Start a fire on top of the logs and fan those flames into a hot, roaring F I R E!  Far more fun than turning the oven on 350, don’t you think?

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Eventually the logs will burn through allowing hot coals to fill the hole creating a hot outdoor oven just perfect for roasting turkeys.  Turkey in the Hole 2014 happened on a mild night, but it is amazing how warm it is around that fire even on years when the temperatures are in the lower twenties! Up close it’s not just warm, it’s hot! It takes some stamina to fan the fire for a few minutes.

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The Mountaineers, Pioneers, and Woodsmen all took an hour long turn at keeping the fire built up.  They also got the turkeys ready to bake.

Because the fire is so hot, the cavity of the turkey gets filled with ice.  This helps to keep the turkey cooler at first.  More importantly, the ice melts and helps to keep the meat from drying out.  The outside of the turkey gets absolutely slathered with butter and lavishly covered with seasonings.  Then it gets wrapped in fifteen sheets of tinfoil and wrapped with a metal hanger.

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We all love the singing and stories and joking that goes on at Turkey in the Hole, but we really love the apple fritters and hot chocolate, too!

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turkey in the hole (2 of 14)Eventually the fire is left alone to burn down.  This year, we worked at the fire until midnight then went to sleep while the coals produced themselves on autopilot.  At five in the morning, the turkeys got dropped down in their bed of coals and then covered with a layer of dirt.  Last year we used a remote thermometer to record the temperatures of our outdoor oven.  Within the first hour the turkeys were in the coals, the temperature went from 1100 degrees down to 800 degrees! By the end of the second hour, the temperature dropped to 600 degrees, still very high compared to most Turkey’s being made around the country.  4-1/2 hours later, the temperature leveled out at around 200 degrees where they slowly baked to perfection.

Thanksgiving Dinner

We love that our parents get to join us for a Thanksgiving Dinner before we go home.  This year at sharing time, the chiefs told us one thing they are thankful for about each boy in their group.  So many times when Thanksgiving rolls around, we thank God for our things.  We thank Him for the intangible things like health, freedom, and love.  We even thank Him for the people in our families and for our friends.  But most of us don’t bless each other often enough with words of thanks and appreciation.  Have you told someone today how much you appreciate them and why?

Posted by & filed under Special Occasions.

After an unusually cool summer, the day of our long anticipated Mother Son Banquet dawned hot and muggy.  But even temperatures in the nineties with a real feel in the triple digits couldn’t touch the excitement around camp.

Our Mamas were coming!

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These are the beautiful women who have chosen to give us life, whether by birth or adoption.

They’ve given us breakfast and tucked us into bed at night. They have loved us when we were angry and listened to us when the turmoil inside caused us to say hurtful words to them. Their hands have washed our clothes, swept mud off the floor, and hugged us tightly. Oh, and made us half a million sandwiches more or less.

Most importantly, they have loved us and believed in us when it seemed we could no longer believe in ourselves.  They loved us enough to know when we needed more than their help.  Enough to let us go so we could learn how to work through the pain in our lives and learn how to return their love.

honor Mom

These women, they are our Mamas.

And on this night, we chose to celebrate and honor them.

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A few pictures from our wonderful evening ~

A bit of nervous excitement as the boys got all dressed up and chose a rose for their mom.

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“Shady Grove,” as the area outside chuckwagon is commonly dubbed, turned into an oasis of beauty for the evening celebration. Green ferns, candles reflecting off glass jars, and whimsical arrangements of Queen Anne’s lace added to the ambience of what is already a lovely spot of grass and trees.

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Arrival time!  Who needs words for that moment when a mama sees her son again for the first time in nearly six weeks?

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Mother Son Banquet (55 of 121)Miss Esther and Miss Sheryl outdid themselves with a delicious dinner.  And the dessert table? You would have had to be there …

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Chief Brian read the story, “Love You Forever,” a humorous, sentimental book about the undying bond between a mother and her child.

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Everyone enjoyed a spin the wheel game with questions or discussion opportunities to answer.

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Of course, no camp activity would feel complete without a bit of singing.

Mother Son Banquet (113 of 121)Perhaps though, the very end of the evening was the best.  Each boy built a miniature pow wow fire.  When they were all lit we stood around the circle and the boys had the opportunity to say those important words we sometimes find it so difficult to verbalize. “One thing I really like about my mom is ….”

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To all our amazing Moms who love unselfishly, thank you for everything you do!

PS: Stay tuned for more Mother Son Banquet photos on our facebook page soon!

Posted by & filed under Camp Routines, Education, Special Occasions.

Ever wonder what it would be like to cook all of your food over a fire?  At Allegany Boys Camp, the boys do exactly that two days out of every week.  Friday through Tuesday they head up trail three times a day and enter chuckwagon where Miss Esther and Miss Sheryl have fabulous food waiting for them.  On Wednesday and Thursday the boys get a chance to hone their own culinary skills at campsite.

alternative program for teenage boys

Each boy takes a turn planning a menu and being in charge of cooking the meal when his turn comes.  Education is incorporated into every aspect of a cookout.  When a boy plans a menu and needs to choose an item from each food group he learns about nutrition.  When he itemizes the ingredients and calculates how much he needs for his group, he practices Math skills.  Just like the grocery store doesn’t deliver items to your house when you forget to pick them up, spaghetti doesn’t magically appear at your campsite just because you wanted it on the menu.  By planning a menu, boys learn  important life skills like planning ahead and thinking through details.

menu planning

Learning to cook is the most obvious life skill.  Cooking over a fire takes that skill to the next level! Best of all, it’s fun!  Who doesn’t like gathering around a grill and enjoying a cookout with friends?  The sense of ownership and accomplishment that comes with being successful in making food that others enjoy is indescribable.

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Normally, each group of campers cooks food for their own group.  On the first day of spring all of camp got together for a big dutch oven cookoff and what a feast it was!  There were barbecued wings, pasta dishes, Japanese chicken, soups, and a fabulous apple pie dessert.  You can bake almost anything in a dutch oven.

Just as with any cookout at home, the slower pace of outdoor cooking allows time to relax and enjoy the warmer weather ….

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….time for your taste buds to tingle with anticipation every time you lift the lid

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…time to chat with the people around you ….

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…or arm wrestle with your neighbor ….

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…if you’re lucky, you might even catch a ride …

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…and of course, time to taste test …

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“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” — Julia Child

At camp, we feel a bit the same way.