Kids' compliments fuel director's dedication

07/14/2012 12:00 AM

07/15/2012 12:13 AM

It’s Pastor Mary Canniff-Kuhn’s 18th summer as co-program director at Camp Lutheridge in the N.C. mountains, but it’s comments from the campers that always make her look forward to another year.

At the end of each week, campers fill out a form and evaluate their experiences. A sampling:

• “At most places there are cliques. There aren’t any at Lutheridge.”
• “I felt the people really cared and loved me.”
• “Being out here, you can see the wonders that God created. He is the best artist ever.”

Camp Lutheridge of Lutheridge + Lutherock Ministries, is an overnight camp in the mountains of Arden, just south of Asheville about two hours west of Charlotte. The ministry is owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

For several years, the camp has been a recipient of The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund, which raises money for students from low-income families throughout the Carolinas to enjoy time outdoors.

“Pastor Mary” and her husband, Tim, are both ordained ministers. Mary, 55, started at Lutheridge as a camper 30 years ago.

Primarily a retreat and conference center, Lutheridge rolls out its camp program in the summer. There are about 90 counselors for the 200 to 300 campers each week, grades 2 through 12.

At Camp Lutheridge, creativity is more than encouraged – it’s expected.

“We are called to be creative, and the world often squeezes it out of us,” said Canniff-Kuhn.

Each week, the camp has a different theme. A couple weeks ago it was the “Olympics.”

The cabins were designated different nations and the campers designed their own flags and wrote national songs. They orchestrated a Parade of Nations, and throughout the week torch-bearers traveled between the “villages.”

They’ve had weeks for music, superheroes, medieval times, mysteries and even an annual “Christmas in July” week. “It gives this wonderful experience of adventure,” said Canniff-Kuhn.

“We’re always trying to make memories, to help kids to do things they couldn’t or wouldn’t do at home.”

At Lutheridge, there are six to eight programs operating at once. They range from the traditional overnight experience to a camp where the entire family is welcome, to the mostly offsite Outdoor Adventure program that a group of Charlotte teens from McClintock Middle did this year.

It involved outdoor activities, such as rock climbing, rafting, canoeing, caving and a 13-mile hike. Some of the teens had never ventured out of the city before.

But encouraging kids in their faith is the heart of the Camp Lutheridge mission, Canniff-Kuhn said.

At the end of every week, the staff gather to share what they call “Easter stories,” or “times when we’ve seen God in big and small ways,” said area director Kyle Bates, 24.

For many of the McClintock students – some returning campers – the experience was transformative. Teens who had discipline issues their first summer didn’t get reprimanded once this time, staffers said. Kids who used to be afraid to venture out, now led the pack.

“When they leave this place, they’re different,” said Bates. “They’ve grown.”

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