When you are handed a milk crate of food and told to make a meal out of it — every night for the entire summer — it makes an impression. For Wes Wubbenhorst, his memories of Pioneer Village run deep. Such as the year the lake wasn’t there. “The docks were in the middle of the lake and you had to get to them without getting muddy, which of course, nobody succeeded in doing,” he recalls.
Helping Kids Create Bonds
Wes and his wife Vivienne Thompson started as campers in Pioneer Village in the early 1970s. Wes came back as a counselor in the summer of ’79, then became Director of PV with Viv for 2 years. “It was an incredible experience — giving kids a challenge and seeing them reach it.”“For example, campers’ first season at cooking were typically disastrous. But by the second year they really got it, and were making things like lasagna. Seeing the growth is incredible.”
“At PV, we had a “NO” day — no bells to signal the schedule. We just put food out and see what happens. Some kids try to take over the cooking, and others do it on their own. They learn self-reliance and their energy is invigorating.”
The Ideal Life
Wes considered it the ideal life, teaching school during the year and coming to camp in the summer. He remembers the time that David Brooks, one of the counselors at the time, took 6 campers and went tubing down a local river one morning. While not on the scheduled list of activities, it created a strong bond with the campers. It’s these kinds of transformative experiences for campers that inspire Wes.And so when he and Vivienne went to Honduras with the Peace Corps, they brought their love of kids with them. There, Wes was a professor at a university while serving at an Episcopal orphanage, and Viv was a speech pathologist at a private special education school.
Returning to Camp
With memories of flame-cooked mac and cheese and amazing hiking and canoe trips, Wes returned to Pioneer Village in 1985 to give other kids those experiences. That year, his first child was born. “In the summer of ’86, we walked around to the cook sites to teach her to speak,” he says. “Her first word was ‘spoon.’” After that, Wes enrolled in the Virginia Theological Seminary and graduated in 1989, only to return to camp as Assistant Director with Andy Katsanis from 1989 through 1992. In that capacity, he tended to the 13,000 people who came to the camp’s retreat center each year. “It’s what the church does so well — building community and fellowship and living together in an affirming way,” he says. “It was very rewarding.”
Coordinating Youth Events
After a stint at a church in New Jersey, Wes and Vivienne moved to Maryland in 1996. He is now the Provincial Youth Coordinator in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, organizing regional, as well as national events. His devotion to kids and exposing them to a diversity of people and transformative experiences still runs strong. He brings busloads of kids to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and runs group trips for kids to Appalachia and Central America.
A Private Retreat
When Wes had a sabbatical last year, he returned to the camp. “The gatehouse is set up perfectly for a private retreat,” he says. “As we say in the camping world — it took God six days to make the world, and on the seventh day, he went to camp.”