The Troubles With Camp

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Summer camp can represent the very best of summer for kids. Getting away from mom and dad (maybe for the first time), learning responsibility, navigating the challenges of bugs and scrapes, and most importantly, having fun in the sun!

But summer camp can also be one of the biggest risks for the churches and other organizations that sponsor them. The very same things that represent fun for kids also present unique opportunities for those who desire to harm children and teenagers.

For example, many children leaving home for the first time are unsure how to interpret situations that take them out of their “normal.” Camp facilities are often spread out over many acres, making it easier for people to hide behaviors. Children and youth are changing clothes, showering, and sleeping in nontraditional settings. And, some camps don’t have clear policies or screening in place.

A few headlines:

  • In January, Davionne Vasquez was arrested for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. He worked at a camp in Texas over the summer where the girl was employed as a junior counselor.
  • In July 2017, Coty Shawn Penter, an Arkansas church camp counselor, was arrested on nine counts of battery after he was accused of beating young campers with a switch as a form of discipline.
  • In January, Benjamin Lawrence Petty pleaded guilty to attacking a girl while she was attending an Oklahoma church camp, the largest youth camp in the country. Petty was a cook at the camp.
  • In August 2017, Keith Meyn, an employee at a Melville, N.Y., day camp with a large collection of child pornography was sentenced to 15 years in state prison. He had been with the camp for nearly a decade, serving as a group leader, camp counselor, and director of maintenance. David Greenberg, another camp employee, also pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual performance by a child, and was sentenced to 25 years.

A simple Internet search shows that these are tragic, but not isolated examples. Fortunately, having clear plans and policies in place can help you prevent an incident at your camps. Here are risk-management strategies to keep in mind:

  • Screen your staff, volunteers, and vendors. Anyone who will have access to children and youth at the camp should go through multiple levels of screening.
  • Train your staff and volunteers. This includes not only what not to do, but also how to be proactive in protecting campers and themselves.
  • Have clear plans and policies in place. No staff or camper should be alone with a child. Two-deep leadership is a must at all times!
  • Educate parents. Let them know what your policies are, and make them hold you accountable. Encourage them to talk with their children about the goings-on at camp.

No camp is perfect—history has shown there can be trouble anywhere despite best efforts. But you can take solid measures to make your camp the safest it can be—one that provides lasting, positive memories for the children and youth that attend.