Jon Kirby has over 40 years’ experience under his belt in running Pilgrim Day Camp, a traditional summer day camp owned and operated by the Conference for over 50 years and located in Framingham, MA. And he needed all that experience to prepare him for the onslaught of registrations for this past summer’s program.
The Camp registration web page went live in January, and within 24 hours, there were over 1,600 children enrolled – over 400 more than a typical summer! It was the second year after the camp was closed for the pandemic so Kirby believes that the large bump in interest resulted from the parents and students spreading positive messages about their previous summer camp experiences on their social networks.
“Pilgrim Day Camp had an extraordinary summer which continues to highlight the need for a Day Camp experience in the Southern New England Conference,” said Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Executive Conference Minister for the Conference. “The amount of families that are impacted annually continue to stretch the footprint and impact that our outdoor ministries can and continue to make in Living the Love and Justice of Jesus. I am excited about what’s ahead, many thanks for all the years of Jon Kirby’s leadership and the legacy he will leave behind.”
The Camp offers learn-to-swim programs, athletics, arts & crafts, nature, drama and music, archery, bikes, candle making, wood working, cookouts, hiking, ropes courses, as well as summer treats. In addition, every week campers receive a special spirit calendar as a way to unify everyone throughout the camp with fun and ‘wacky things’ to do or wear.
Not wanting to disappoint any child (or parent), Kirby took up the challenge and made sure there would be enough staff and program time to ensure every child was accommodated and had a fun, activity-filled eight weeks. And he and his staff certainly rose to the challenge. All you have to do is look at a few of the many parent comments on the Pilgrim Day Camp Facebook page:
- Julie Young Bertsch wrote: Thank you for providing our daughter an amazing summer filled with swimming, games, crafts, adventure, sunscreen, dirt, popsicles and friendships. She was tired and grubby coming home every day and I wouldn't have it any other way. See you next year!
- From: Kate Chammas: Our son LOVED his first summer at PDC - very grateful for this experience! He learned to swim, made new friends, played endless Gaga ball and came home tired, filthy and happy every day! Looking forward to next summer!!
- Heather McGahan Reis wrote: My daughter had the best summer. It was tears for us the whole drive home. At 6 she has already decided that she wants to be a counselor there… thank you to all the amazing staff. See you next year!
“Our reputation is built upon our ability to take really good care of the kids, so we are very careful about who is hired and how they are trained,” said Kirby. “You have to make sure the people you are hiring are suitable and responsible and will be kind and considerate to the children at all times.”
There is a low camper-to-staff ratio with children supervised at all times, including at swimming pools, playing fields, forest trails and indoor facilities. Staff also need to be certified when appropriate (eg swim instructors) and must attend safety and training sessions.
“We have a long tradition of taking great care of kids and these kids go back home, every day, exhausted and dirty with a big smile on their face, and maybe having learned new skills like swimming or how to take care of the environment better,” he said. “But we really focus on making sure they are surrounded by great counselors and staff so they experience kindness and togetherness and can take that out into the world with them.”
Pilgrim Day Camp might exist on 113 acres for 8 weeks a year, but the values they instill reach beyond borders, and the memories they provide can last a lifetime.
Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane is the Storyteller for the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, and a member of Tewksbury Congregational Church UCC.