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Camp Quest

Planning TimeEarly in the Spring
Group SizeAny
Staff #Any
Event DateSummer (one week)

Activity Overview:

Over summer break, your group members are likely to need something to do. A great way to help the secular community and build camaraderie is to organize members of your group to apply to volunteer as Camp Quest counselors!

Camp Quest is a national network of week-long sleepaway summer camps targeted at youth (8-17) from non-religious families. Many college-age volunteers serve at Camp Quest, as well as many SSA staffers and volunteers.

The Camp Quest campers of today might be the SSA leaders of tomorrow!

Drawing people of all ages and backgrounds, Camp Quest offers volunteers an incredible opportunity to get further “tapped in” to the secular community, while also having tons of fun and making a difference. Volunteering for Camp Quest is also great opportunity for personal development. You will receive free training and be empowered as a leader, mentor, and teacher. Camp directors might even write you a great letter of recommendation, highlighting different skills and talents than your professors may see in the classroom; it looks great on your resume.

You can learn more about Camp Quest here.

Planning timeframe:
Camp Quest holds week-long sessions throughout the country from June through August. Volunteer staff applications are usually available by February and are typically accepted through May. Depending on the location, spots can fill up fast, so apply early. However, don’t assume you won’t be accepted if you are applying late! Some sites may continue to accept volunteers into the summer. Camp Quest is very popular and at most camps, potential campers have to be placed on waiting lists because there are not enough qualified volunteers available.

Applications are submitted by individuals, to each individual camp, so coordination mostly amounts to getting people excited about the opportunity and encouraging them to apply. Most camps are going to accept somewhere between ten and twenty new counselors, so it’s possible that if a group from your SSA applies, there may not be enough spots available, even if you are all qualified. Consider sending people to apply at more than one camp, or contacting the camp you are interested in to learn more about their needs; they might be happy to make special arrangements for you.

Since applications are available by February and most of your members will need to make summer plans, it’s a great idea to put Camp Quest on their radar early in the calendar year.

Application Tips and Further Information:

  1. Camp Quest volunteer selection is competitive and spots are limited. Applicants will be asked to provide information about their interests, background, and interpersonal skills. Interviews and background checks are required before volunteers can be accepted to staff, due to working with minors.
  2. Though it is not required, CQ looks for experience with youth and the secular community - your campus group counts! CQ also looks for counselors with a range of hobbies and interests that would make good activities - this can be anything, such as drama and improv games, juggling, science experiments, nature hikes, or anything else. Be creative in your application!
  3. Every Camp Quest requires its volunteers to complete online youth development and safety training (a minimum of two hours). You can also expect an in-person training prior to camp (usually the day before campers arrive) and possibly a pre-camp orientation call or two. Be prepared to do some work ahead of time. The work is designed to be flexible and relatively quick, but it’s not to be taken lightly. The training you receive will help you be an awesome counselor and learn new skills that can be applied to other areas of your life. If you've indicated that you can design or lead an activity, this will also involve pre-camp preparation and coordination with senior staff.
  4. Transportation to the sites is up to the individual counselor (see: Material Requirements below). You can drive, or if you are taking a plane, you can coordinate with the camp director to have someone pick you up. Just be sure to communicate your travel plans to the camp director well in advance!

Material requirements:
Meals and a place to sleep are provided to counselors at no cost, but they are expected to bring their own supplies. This includes items like a sleeping bag, pillow, water bottle, bug spray, bathing suit, clothing, hygiene items etc. Packing lists are provided. Expensive or specialized camping equipment is not required.

Volunteers are expected to travel to camp at their own cost. If travel costs are prohibitive, there are sometimes limited opportunities to apply for travel reimbursements. Applicants should inquire at their intended camp for more information. Need any help traveling to the location? You can also apply for an SSA travel grant!

Participation Note:
Keep in mind that camps are in rustic areas. Be prepared for nature - like bugs, spiders, and the dark.

Campers are not allowed to bring technologies that connect to the outside world, such as laptops and cellphones. Counselors are allowed to bring these items, but can only use them for limited times within staff-only areas. If this limitation is uncomfortable, you should not apply as a counselor!

Cooperating Organizations:
If your campus group isn't interested, feel free to reach out to local secular groups. A week at camp is a great way to network with other leaders in your area. Even if there's only one person in your group who wants to participate, they are absolutely welcome to apply. Camp is a great place to meet more people from other SSA affiliate groups as well!

Suggested Walkthrough:

  1. The first thing you need to do is drum up interest with your group members. Emphasize how this is a way to give back to the secular community and come closer together as a group - not to mention a way to engage in fun camp activities for free!
    1. Camp Quest materials are available for SSA groups. Contact Mary Barczak to have some sent to you!
    2. Camp Quest has been around since 1996, so it’s very possible there is someone local to your area who would love to talk to your group. Contact Mary Barczak, or the camp closest to you group, to be connected to someone in your area if you would like to invite them to speak to your group members.
  2. Make sure that anyone who is interested in applying has the information they need, and follow up with them so they remember to apply. Everyone will apply individually and will be subject to criminal background checks. Applications are completed at each camp's specific website.
  3. Follow-up with people in your group who submit applications. For those who are accepted, you can help organize rides and even complete your online training together!
  4. While at camp, have fun and keep the kids safe. Focus on learning new skills and getting to know other like-minded people outside of your group, in addition to bonding further with the people you already know. You are highly encouraged to make this a regular activity, either as a group or individually.

One of our best resources to find out what works and what doesn't is you - our student leaders! If you've employed a strategy that worked well, let us know about it so other groups can also use that idea. If you've learned a lesson of caution about something we suggest, point out the pitfalls. You can email us at organizer@secularstudents.org!

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