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Summer camp rethinks and regroups during COVID shutdowns

All Tribes Christian Camp, under the direction of Chrissy Fliestra, plans return with new high-ropes course

One of the harder-hit sectors in 2020 due to COVID-19 is tourism.  

Forced to close their doors for the season  All Tribes Christian Camp - a not for profit religious organization with strong ties to both tourism and education was forced to sit out last season, regroup and rethink the way business would work for them in the coming season should they be allowed to reopen.

"All Tribes has had a huge impact on the lives of our campers, their families, and the community around us. Our facility has become a home away from home for many of our campers and staff alike, and a place known for creating lifelong friendships between many of those who attend."

"Those who partake in our programs experience growth in confidence, self-awareness, and leadership skills.

"Our summer staff gain hands-on experience in a variety of life skills that are directly transferable to the workforce, higher education, and day-to-day life.

"Many of our alumni have gone on to become leaders in their communities, as they learn to engage with the needs of those around them and invest in the greater good," explains Chrissy Fliestra, Executive Director, All Tribes Christian Camp.

The camp was founded by Millie Jacobs Troyer for children of all backgrounds from the Algoma District and opened in 1963. Ms. Troyer had a dream of sharing her love for the outdoors as well as her faith. She enjoyed it so much she had a cabin located on the property and stayed there each summer.

For many years Ms. Troyer's vision was delivered through day camps. She was active with the camp while participating with the campers as the director up until 2001 and then as a member of the board until she passed away in the fall of 2019, enjoying meals with the campers and joining them in events as she was able.

The parcel of land equalling about 100 acres is located at 1065 Hilton Road, on the beautiful St. Joseph Island, approximately one hour from Sault Ste. Marie.  All Tribes Christian Camp has transitioned to what it is today.  

It houses several facilities for the comfort of its campers like the lodge that has meeting facilities and a dining hall, the gym which houses a tech shop and recreation room, washhouses for personal care, as well as some cabins - each able to sleep seven with washrooms - that have at times doubled as rental units for campers. On the property is a spring-fed pond with an Aqua Hut which is used for small events such as polar bear dip and reflecting. 

Over a typical summer, Day Camps for campers from pre-kindergarten to grade 8 are still a staple in daily operations. In addition, overnight camps take place for campers beginning with grade 3 and up to grade 12, a family camp session as well as a limited amount of cabin rentals.

This year due to COVID-19 camps at All Tribes Christian Camp will operate a little differently. Many of the usual camps will operate as downsized day camps and the family camp will operate as it has in the past.

"Due to the pandemic, we were unable to open last summer, this was heartbreaking for us particularly as we grieved the passing of our beloved founder."

"We took this year as a chance to invest in our property and have added a new high ropes course to our facilities. We are excited to begin using this for the first time this spring."

"We moved our day camp program to a 'Camp At Home' style program with online curriculum and music, as well as games and camp equipment that campers could use at home," said Fliestra.

Summer camps will take place during the months of July and August with modifications to numbers in order to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.  

After being closed for the 2020 season staff took the time to reflect on the passing of Ms. Troyer and her legacy while they built a brand new High Ropes facility and prepared to support an expanded cabin rental period to enhance their yearly operations going into 2021.

Fliestra says, "We are excited to have campers and families back or here for the first time!"

"This summer we are changing things up, with three modified day camp programs, a family camp weekend, and cabin rental options."

"We will also be offering single-day group event options, where groups can come enjoy our space and experience team building on our new high-ropes course."

Programs are open to anyone and everyone as long as they meet the age requirements for the program of interest. There is no faith or denomination required however, there are some fun faith-based activities offered in addition to the usual activities just for fun.

In the spirit of Ms. Troyer's vision and legacy, there are generally 40 - 50 volunteers for the camp each summer helping to shape and guide young lives. 

Many of the staff and volunteers throughout the years are those that have themselves participated in the camp over the years and some are friends that have been made along the way.

This year plans are in place to hire six part-time staff initially in hopes to expand those numbers once things take off. Staff are typically students who demonstrate competence in leadership, a love of the outdoors and a dedication to their Christian faith. 

"I took on the role of Executive Director in September of 2017. I took over from Jonathan and Marney Stewart who led the camp as volunteer Executive Directors for 10 years."

"It has been both an honour and a humbling experience to carry on the Legacy that Millie led. I had the chance to get to know her briefly in the years before she passed, listening to her stories of the early days at All Tribes and discussing both of our dreams for the future of this organization.

"My greatest hope is that I can carry on even a fraction of the influence that Millie has had on this community.

"My first real experience with All Tribes was as the director, though I grew up working and participating in the camping industry and have a strong passion for leadership development and fostering personal growth in our participants.

"Camp, as a whole, has always held a special place in my heart. It is a place where friends become family, goals are accomplished, and lives are changed.

"When I began working at All Tribes I was instantly blown away by the homelike family atmosphere as I, a total stranger, was welcomed in with loving arms. It is my strongest opinion that every child should have the chance to experience a week of summer camp," Fliestra goes on to say.

Registrations for camp programs begin on February 28, 2021, and can be made at  Limited cabin rental options begin in May.