2023 Summer Camps Series
For UGM, camps are part of ongoing work low-income schools
Union Gospel Mission's nine weeks of free summer camps at the UGM Camp on the Spokane River near Ford, Wash., is part of their year-round commitment to at-risk children ages eight to 11 in low-income neighborhoods and low-income schools, said Ryan Brown, director of youth outreach for Union Gospel Mission (UGM), which has provided homeless services since 1951.
The rest of the year, UGM connects churches with nearby schools for after-school programs led by staff, volunteers and student interns. Its program includes involvement with youth in juvenile detention.
"At camp, we have a capacity of 80 kids and 30 staff," said Rich Fodey, camp administrator.
Churches relating with Stevens, Francis Scott, Garfield, Grant, Trent and Willard Schools are Liferoads Church—which does two camps—South Hill Bible, Faith Bible, Mission Church in Spokane Valley and Spokane First.
"We are looking for two or three more churches," said Ryan.
Partner churches handle registration, recruit children, prepare chapel services, lead arts and crafts, fun and games, and serve as the cabin leaders, program team and work crew, Rich said.
UGM camp staff supervise sports, hiking, swimming, crafts, team building, bike rides, canoeing, tubing, fishing, archery, swimming, low ropes and more.
"Most important is our Gospel focus introducing kids to Jesus," said Ryan, who first encountered UGM in 1992, when his mother gave him a bus ticket from Southern California. He had been homeless and left his three children who barely knew him.
Ryan had a sister in Spokane but chose to check in at the UGM shelter when he arrived.
"I have a heart for the kids because of my troubled past. I understand what it's like not to have opportunities," he said.
Through UGM he gained stability to win custody of one of his children and later the other two. He began attending church, married and moved to Canby, Ore., where he was the "next-gen"—youth—pastor for 15 years.
"I brought youth from my church to serve at the mission and camp," he said, "so 10 years ago when the position I now have opened up I applied."
Ryan said the camp has a clothing and resource cabin, because often the children who come have no sleeping bag, shoes, swimsuit or camp clothes.
"Some eat just one meal a day at home," he said, "but at camp they can even have seconds.
"What most moved me was when a 10-year-old boy said that being at camp was the first time he slept in his own bed," he continued. "That shows what a big impact camp has."
Through Ryan, UGM partners with local churches to do outreach to the schools with after-school programs, mentors, inviting and offering resources to the children and families.
"The free camps are supported by hundreds of businesses, ministry partners and individuals who donate $160 a child. Some sponsor one and some 10 or more. Funds go to a general pool," said Ryan.
Throughout the year, the camp is rented for women's, men's, youth and family retreats, and used for weddings. There are only a few weekends in the summer when it is available. Income from rent also helps kids go to camp.