When I was a student in southern California, and made countless drives up and down highway 5, I was always perplexed when I passed the exits for Disneyland. Seeing the top of the Matterhorn mountain or Hotel Tower of Terror, I’d think if it weren’t for the signage, most people would drive by the “Happiest Place on Earth.” They would miss the experience of being transported to another time and place. The sites, sounds, smells, the people you encounter and the overall experience lead you to believe you have been moved into another world.
It is that experience, the transportation into a world unlike your own, that the youth team at Mount Hermon strives to replicate any time a student or parent walks on these grounds.
Our vision is to lead students one step closer to Jesus
In preparing for any youth program, our vision is to lead students one step closer to Jesus; creating a holistic experience in which everything ties seamlessly together is part of that aim. We never want there to be a distinction between the “spiritual theme” and the “fun theme,” but rather that all components of the program-whether activities, free time, time alone devotions, or skits-point back to creating an experience where students are taking one step closer to Jesus.
From the moment guests step on our grounds, we want to hook them into the theme and experience. The parking lot decorations and playlist are just-as-intentionally planned out as the main lodge areas. As they walk in to camp and cross the threshold, we strive for their senses to be overwhelmed just enough that they feel transported, and yet remain curious enough that they want to learn more. No space or area of camp should be left unturned, but everything is transformed. (Here’s a hint: the sign of a truly integrated theme is when even the bathrooms are decorated!)
For example, this summer at Ponderosa Lodge, we specifically wanted there to be an intentional separation between the two worlds we were thematically presenting. We created an entrance gate, which on one side was reflective of the dark, lifeless Shadowlands. As soon as guests passed under the archway, they were met with the color and life of the Upside Down world, and greeted by welcoming staff who immediately made them feel at home. A 20-foot clock tower stood in the middle of Ponderosa that students walked through to the cabin areas multiple times a day. As they passed through, the theme’s tagline, “live like you belong to another world,” was stated over the archway, reminding them of the Biblical truth they were studying and being challenged with during the week. It was key pieces like these that tied everything together into one grand experience.
Parents often ask staff as they’re on their way out of camp, “where do I sign up?” That wish of wanting to stay and not leave, is exactly what we’re striving for. They’ve stepped in to a world unlike their own for a brief period of time. It is our vision and prayer that they leave changed and continuing to take one step closer to Jesus.
Kelsey Paterson is the Program Administrator for Youth and Young Adults. She served two years as an intern, and now serves full time, designing programs that make a lasting impression and impact on students.