A Summer in the Wilderness Posted on September 21st, 2011 by

Danielle Justice '12 leads a canoe full of youth at Camp Amnicon.

Fall has indeed arrived and students are back in class, but two current Gustavus students are still reflecting on their experiences this summer as counselors at Camp Amnicon on the shores of Lake Superior.

Senior Danielle Justice and sophomore Ryan Franke spent this past summer at Amnicon – a high adventure camp affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that serves mostly middle school and high school youth. The camp specializes in canoe trips down local rivers and to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior.

“As a guide, I would take these students out on either three or four night trips where every day we would paddle to a new campsite, set up camp, cook all our meals over the fire, and lead bible studies,” Justice said.

Roughly 50 percent of Amnicon’s campers come from what the camp calls “at-risk” settings, including inner city and impoverished neighborhoods, mental health treatment programs, immigrant communities, foster homes and group homes, and Native American reservations.

“The camp’s goal is to bring youth from all sorts of backgrounds closer to God, nature, and to each other within the small groups that go out on a high adventure trip,” Franke said. “This is all done in a safe space that the guides create, where nobody has to fear ridicule or judgment throughout the week.”

While the camp is designed to benefit the youth who attend, counselors like Justice and Franke also reap the benefits of the experience.

“I learned more than I ever thought was possible this summer,” Justice said. “I thought it was going to be a lot of learning about canoeing, camping, living in the outdoors, and dealing with the wilderness, but in reality I learned so much more than that. I learned a lot about identifying the needs of youth while also creating a physically and emotionally safe environment. I also learned a lot about youth faith development.”

Justice, Franke, and the other Amnicon counselors used the theme of “Brokenness and Healing,” this summer when preparing their bible studies. That theme provided for many powerful and emotional conversations with campers.

“There was one kid, who has had a pretty tough life thus far, telling me that ‘out here in the wilderness I can be myself. This is who I am and it feels great,’” Franke said. “It was powerful to watch him and so many others come out of their protective shells throughout the week, leave their baggage behind, and just be kids – enjoying each other and the wilderness.”

“Overall, it was a very hard, but very fulfilling job,” Justice said. “It was always so rewarding to watch how much the campers grew through the week. When they first arrived, many would be extremely nervous about living in the outdoors and not having any technology or comfort items along, but by the end of the week they would realize how much they were capable of and how strong they had become.”

To find out more information about Camp Amnicon, go online to amnicon.org.


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