On the edge of East Oxford is a haven for people who want to experience nature within a personal, religious setting, and it’s had a growing influence on the Oxford community and surrounding areas for 72 years.
Since its establishment in 1946, Camp Lake Stephens, at 117 Camp Lake Stephens Drive in Oxford, has served the local community through summer camps for kids, church group retreats, and family and community events. Today, they are trying to reach a new generation of campers,and you’re invited to participate in their first run.
“…[in 1946], I know its mission was more so to create a summer camp for children and youth,” said Program Director Chap Fenwick. “But since then, we’ve expanded that to adults as well. It’s a place where children, youth, and adults can come and have a tangible, real encounter with God.”
If you’re a runner, you may want to mark your calendar for the first Mighty Muddy 5K & Fun Run on April 6, 2019. The event will he held on the CLS grounds with more than a dozen natural and man-made obstacles scattered throughout the course.
The run will include mud, community-building, and memories. All proceeds will go directly to the Camper Scholarship Fund. To learn more, visit http://camplakestephens.com/mighty-muddy/
During the academic year, CLS hosts multiple retreat groups each weekend and program retreats, such as their Overflow and Confirmation Retreat, where individuals and church groups celebrate religious milestones in the Methodist Church. They also host school groups looking for outdoor education during the week.
“For three and a half years, camp has been a place where I can experience God,” said Kyle Chickvara, an intern and summer program staff member at CLS. “It has brought me so many new relationships, has allowed me to be myself, and given me confidence to teach in the ministry. Most of my interaction has been with [Oxford-University United Methodist Church], but it’s been cool getting to know the town.”
With evolving programs and community outreach, CLS has become a cornerstone in the lives of many families and children
Kosciusko native Fenwick and his family moved to Oxford full time in January 2014 when he was hired as the new program director for CLS. The CLS staff admires Fenwick’s leadership skills and his willingness to create personal relationships.
“He’s the kind of person that puts a lot of thought into everything he does,” said Chickvara, “and he goes above and beyond to care about the people he’s leading.”
As a summer staff member in 2008, Fenwick has been around the Oxford community for many years. He said the best part about living in Oxford is the diverse community of college-aged and older residents that contribute to CLS’s growing needs.
“From a camp perspective, for us to have a university in our backyard that we can tap into for volunteering and recruiting is a big plus,” said Fenwick.
The CLS staff works hard to keep up with the changing needs of the community, and that includes keeping up with new media. CLS has launched a redesigned website within the past year that is more user-friendly.
“If you don’t have a decent website, people will associate the quality of the place with the quality of the website,” Fenwick said. “They have that perception that we show the same amount of attention to our camp. When I first inherited this job, we had around 50 Instagram followers, and now it’s like 1,500.”
Fenwick said CLS had to catch up with using social media, but they have since gained more than 5,000 followers through Facebook and Instagram. He credits CLS’s evolving online presence and promotional tools to new staff who have talents for communication and graphic design.
“It’s figuring out the people who have talents,” said Fenwick, “If we don’t ever get out and promote camp outside of camp, we’re not going to reach as many people as we could.”
Fenwick said CLS is working to create a larger presence in the community as a whole. “We’ve made strides,” he said. “We’re starting to create more community outreach events.
They have had programs, such as Christmas at Camp, a family Christmas event in December, and their first Mighty Muddy 5k & Fun Run was announced two weeks ago.
“Any time I wear a camp shirt or hat, someone recognizes it,” said Chickvara.
CLS leaders must be able to adapt and evolve to keep up with the ever-changing needs of the community, and that seems to be what is happening.
“If you look at our numbers for the summer, we have more Oxford kids come than from any other town,” said Fenwick recognizing CLS’s strong ties with the local Methodist churches.
Even with strengthening community influences, Fenwick hopes CLS’s ties within the community will grow stronger.
“It’s got room for improvement, but I think we’ve created some opportunities to engage the community,” he said. “We can certainly do a better job of it.”