Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Summer Swarm


Youth and adult leaders team up at Youth Force to apply siding to a house. Photo by Tabitha Beckman.

Oklahoma children, youth and families have opportunities to work and play in the larger Oklahoma community this summer. Each opportunity builds the kingdom and teaches the importance of community.

OKUMC Missions offers Youth Force, hosted in three locations this summer, at Oklahoma City, Frederick, and Claremore. Up to 150 youth will work on service projects including home repair, garden cleanup, painting, and more. Along with the good works youth and adults are tasked with, participants will also enjoy worship and recreation opportunities, plus lots of great food.

Youth Force has been hosted in many locations across the state, and it’s always a blessing to the community it serves. “It’s also a mentorship program, because it’s a multi-generational mission,” said Lori Foster, associate director of connectional ministry for mission at the Oklahoma conference. “It takes a lot of people to pull these off,” she continued. Each site will host around 100 to 150 youth, who will serve for a week.

Host locations provide sleeping accommodations, meals, adult leaders, support, transportation, entertainment, and more. Student volunteers receive even more than that - including valuable skills and fortified confidence. They also leave with strengthened faith and a renewed sense of what it means to be a United Methodist in service to the community. “Mission is in our DNA,” said Foster. “It’s not just one isolated thing to check off our list, marking the ‘poor’ element as done.

Foster wants churches to know that Youth Force doesn’t have to be just for youth, and it doesn’t have to be a whole week in summer. Church groups can serve their community right in their own backyards, with just a few hours and a handful of volunteers.

Those interested in joining Youth force can register here.

Campers learn the fine art of archery at Canyon Camp. Photo by Tabitha Beckman.

Summer camps are an opportunity for children, youth, and their families to take time together to worship, learn, and live in community together. Last summer, over 2,000 kids flocked to three camp locations - Cross Point, Canyon, and Egan - to learn and grow with multiple programs purposefully designed to fit various ages and learning styles.

Prior to 2019, printed camp books were sent out to every United Methodist church in Oklahoma. To save money and make the books more instantly accessible, camp books are now an online resource for churches and families. Each church can choose its preferred camp location.  Churches are encouraged to reach out to one another to share transportation to camps.

It’s not just campers who are served with summer camps. Young adults, who participated at camps in years past, can return to help lead camps. Summer job opportunities include lifeguarding, maintenance, kitchen work, and hospitality. Parents can volunteer to lead at camps. All who are involved have life-changing experiences at summer camp.

“Our summer conference camps create their own temporary communities where over the span of a few days you become vulnerable with people you barely know because of a mutual trust that is built seemingly overnight,” said Wanda Clark, administrative coordinator for Camps and Retreat Ministries. “Even though the community is temporary, not all of the relationships are. Sometimes the friendships that you create at camp follow you home. I know I have friendships that I cherish to this day with those I went to camp with as a youth. I am forever grateful for these temporary communities and forever friendships.”

Before Covid-19 reached its long tendrils into summer and shut down camps in summer 2020, camps accommodated over 3,100 campers. Attendance numbers are slowly trending nearer to pre-Covid levels, and camps are making their own improvements.

Camp Egan found that it was losing 50,000 gallons of water a year due to water line issues. With a grant, the camp was able to make major improvements and save money in the process. Canyon Camp installed a new, ability-inclusive playground and fishing pond. Cross Point Camp, located right on Lake Texoma, has the only high ropes course currently in use.

Rev. Ed Parker, executive director of OK Camps, added, “We have new discs for the disc golf course at Egan, and the high swing is back in action at Cross Point. The fishing pond and playground at Canyon are both accessible.”

Camp registration is open until just before the camp, but those wishing to earn the early bird discount should register before April 15. The link to register is here.

An adult volunteer reads with a student at Project Transformation at St. Paul UMC in Muskogee. Photo by Tabitha Beckman.

Project Transformation is a summer reading program and day camp serving children first through fifth grades. Four days a week in June and July, campers read with volunteers at host churches, learn science, music, and physical education, and enjoy enrichment activities, including museum trips, canoeing, horseback riding, guest teachers, swimming, and more. Campers are also fed breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

To qualify for Project Transformation, students must demonstrate a need for reading improvement, and a need for financial assistance - proven by family income or attendance at a Title 1 school.

This program is led by four to eight Americorps members, whose housing and most meals are provided by each host church. Americorps members are college students who have an interest in educating young people and in leadership formation.

In addition to Americorps members, host churches provide site supervisors and a large number of volunteers. With one-on-one reading, small group leaders, food service providers, and additional adults, Project Transformation is a huge undertaking.

This year, five host churches have signed up to host Project Transformation: Southern Hills in Tulsa, St. Paul in Muskogee, Wesley in El Reno, First UMC in Enid, and New Hope in Oklahoma City.

Many churches offer local camps, which aren’t scheduled or planned through the conference offices. One popular camp is Charis Camp, which provides bilingual learning opportunities for kids from pre-K to 12th grade.

The fundamental courses include learning Mandarin language, cultural etiquette, and traditions in various Asian countries.

Elective courses include arts and crafts, traditional dance, martial arts, music, cooking, digital arts, and social media content design.

Early bird registration, before June 1, earns a 10 percent discount. Additional information can be found here.



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