After six wonderful, exciting and challenging summers at Camp Lazarus Boy Scout camp in Delaware, Ohio, the Living Youth Programs' U.S. Teen Camp has relocated to a new facility. Our new site, Lone Star Camp, is located approximately seven miles from Athens, Texas, and is just about an hour and fifteen minutes southeast of Dallas. Owned by the Southwest Regional Conference of Seventh Day Adventists (SDA), this marvelous 278-acre property is located in the beautiful pinewoods of East Texas and contains a twenty-five acre lake at its heart.
The move to a new facility was necessary for two main reasons: (1) to secure better camp dates and (2) to accommodate the escalating numbers of campers and staff applying to attend camp. These are not the only reasons for the move, but they were the primary ones.
Because an increasing number of schools throughout the country began scheduling fall classes to begin in the first two weeks of August, earlier camp dates needed to be secured. When we were unable to obtain dates in late June or in the month of July at the facility in Ohio, we began looking for an alternate location.
It was also evident that we were outgrowing the Boy Scout campground in Ohio. Even though, during our time there, we purchased ten small cabins for staff housing and six larger buildings for dormitories, we were still bursting at the seams! The dining hall was overcrowded, and so was the main lodge we used for Sabbath services, Christian Living classes, morning motivation and evening reflection, camp dances, and more. The lack of an adequate number of showers was also a problem—leading to long lines, a lack of hot water, and an enormous waste of time. Camp Lazarus served us well before camp attendance exceeded 250 people, but our numbers have long since passed that mark and have continued to climb. In fact, in the previous two years, attendance in Ohio grew past 300, then past 325. Looking back, it is difficult to see how we all managed to fit.
After spending considerable time searching for potential sites, looking at a number of camps in several locations across the nation and comparing them with Lone Star Camp, it was decided that the Texas location had the potential to become our new camp home. This property had many advantages including:
- An outdoor pavilion with room to seat up to 3,000—ideal for morning motivation, evening reflection, Christian Living classes, the Talent Show and much more
- Quality air-conditioned staff housing
- Twenty-five RV and travel trailer spaces with hook-ups that could be used to provide additional staff housing
- Four first-class air-conditioned dormitories capable of housing twenty-four campers each
- Several large outdoor grass athletic fields
- A spectacular air-conditioned gymnasium, complete with a dance studio, racquetball court, and two large classrooms
Even with all these wonderful amenities, the camp still lacked several important facilities, some of which were essential. First, it did not provide an adequate number of camper dormitories, and therefore could not serve the campers' housing needs. Secondly, even though the dining hall was capable of seating 400 at one time, it was simply an outdoor pavilion with no walls. This would have meant hot and humid mealtimes in the hot Texas summer, with no way to keep out the bugs. This new potential camp also lacked certain non-essential facilities, such as an outdoor swimming pool in which to cool off and conduct swimming and water polo activities, nor did it have a storage building in which to house our equipment.
After several meetings and much negotiation, a decision was reached to make a deal. We would be responsible to build and pay for three duplexes (six dormitories with a capacity of 24 each), an outdoor swimming pool, and a metal storage building 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep. By making this initial investment into their property, we would immediately be helping with projects on their wish list—especially the swimming pool—creating a mutually beneficial opportunity. This would be a good deal for the Southwestern Regional Conference of SDAs, as these additions would improve their property, not only for their own use, but also to make it attractive to outside renters. Once we completed these projects, we would hand them the keys and they would own and maintain the entire property. In return, we would secure use of the entire camp facility for three weeks in July for the next ten years, at no additional cost. Also as part of the deal, they would agree to several improvements: Enclose and air-condition the dining hall; prepare and level the sites to be used for the new dormitories and bring power, water and sewer to each building; and make the necessary changes in the gymnasium to allow for two volleyball nets and two basketball courts instead of just one, thereby doubling its use. Though the initial cost on our part would be substantial, when amortized over the ten-year period, it would end up being far less expensive than the normal costs of renting any comparable camp facility. All these terms were agreed to by both parties in a contract.
Some of the initial construction began last summer, starting with a metal storage building. It is now complete with lights and power, a finished and sealed concrete floor, reinforced steel construction, and rain-gutters and drains. Truckloads of fill-dirt and several inches of crushed rock were hauled in to complete the landscaping around this building.
Next, construction on the in-ground swimming pool began in the fall of 2016. The spacious structure, 10 meters wide and 25 meters long, was completed in late May of this year. It contains three pumps and filters and also contains three chillers to keep the pool cool in the summer. It was designed with a specific purpose in mind. If an individual pump, filter, or chiller fails, the others can sufficiently maintain the pool and keep it running, open, and usable. An impressive wood structure with a metal roof was also added to cover the pool equipment.
Finally, in December 2016 construction began on the dorms. These duplexes can house up to 144 campers. The dorms were operational by late May, as well. However, we are still putting a few finishing touches on them. Additional work is being done to tile the bathroom floors, stain the common area floors, install outdoor wooden decks, and extend the hot-water heater rooms. These projects will be completed during the off-season and, when finished, will fulfill our side of the bargain.
How It Was All Possible
None of this would have happened without the dedicated love and very real, physical support of many in God's Church and some very special individuals. In helping with financing, creating contracts, doing the labor—it was clear that God was providing a way to help make this camp happen. Dozens volunteered, giving of their time and energy to help with the construction of these projects. An incredible amount of effort went into making this happen, for which we will be eternally grateful!
It has been refreshing to see how many have worked together to provide these outstanding facilities in which to conduct summer camp. Those who contributed with their time, energy, and resources did so because they value what is being done to provide opportunities for the youth to spend time together, have fun, learn, grow, and be uplifted in God's way. Rest assured, those of us involved in the Living Youth Programs are committed to make this camp the very finest of its kind anywhere on the planet! We have a duty to see to it that your efforts and contributions are fully appreciated and put to the best use.
A Positive Start
Summer 2017 was our first session at this new camp. Camper and staff surveys indicated a very high approval rating for our new facility. Even though post-camp surveys showed that most who attended thoroughly enjoyed the new location, we also realize that there is still room for improvement. We plan to supply some of the labor (in the form of work parties) to remodel two of the staff dorms to bring them up to specifications. Plans are also being made to construct a new archery range.
With a summer behind us and lessons learned, we will also be making several changes in the overall camp schedule. Both soccer and Ultimate Frisbee will be moved to co-ed evening open activity spots, thereby reducing the number of field sports conducted during the heat of the day. Photography will be added as a new activity for both the boys' and girls' schedules. Leatherworking will continue to be offered for girls and will be added for boys. The skiing day will also be modified: On the day dorms have water skiing, they will also have use of the swimming pool. It will be a relaxing day at the pool when not skiing at the lake. Shade, cold drinks, snacks and games will also be available on those days. Regularly scheduled water polo classes will continue to be held at the pool during the off-days.
These are just some of the changes in store for 2018.
Although most campers thoroughly enjoyed their camp experience in 2017, improvements are already being made for the future. The post-camp surveys provided us with valuable input that will be used as we go forward. Every summer at the Teen Camp, we have the largest assembly of teenagers in God's Church in one place and one time! Camp is awesome! We hope to see you there next summer!