By Rob Sayre
The "Shehaqua experience" started as both an experiment and commitment. The experiment was to learn how to educate our children in the basics of our faith. The commitment was to do this with volunteers and our own money. The result from both of these has been to build a living, evolving and very real community of faith. Transparency in how we handled money, our decision making and how we evaluate and learn have always been a central part of what we do and who we are.
We thought we would try to answer some questions that come up frequently which also highlight some of our core principles we use to operate and make decisions.
Q—How are you able to provide programs so inexpensively?
A—The answer to this has three parts. First, we use the unique talents of a wide group of people to staff, as volunteers our programs. Early on, when we had no money, few people and yet a big desire to educate our kids and provide meaningful experiences for them, we prayed for guidance. The answer, from God came as, “everything you need is already prepared for you. You need to learn how to see them.” Not knowing what this meant exactly, it dawned on us that the people we knew and could involve had all the talent we needed and if we could create programs that people really valued, they would provide the money we needed.
Secondly, we rent facilities that are inexpensive and provide the services our programs need. We don’t have to pay to own or rent facilities year round. We are very efficient.
Finally, we evaluate every program every year. As an organization we learn and grow. We have learned what works and what does not. This discipline and the freedom to try things that sometimes failed have allowed us to continue to grow and evolve.
Q—Why are your programs focused on participation by the entire family?
A—We took to heart that the family is the building block of society and so set out to provide educational programs and experiences for every family member. We also found that when the parents are involved in and attending the programs and not just paying for them, the kids take them more seriously. Participation by parents communicates to the kids that this is important. Also participation builds the community of faith. We work, eat, play, laugh and learn together. Collectively, we own these programs. This is a real, living community of faith.
Q—Why do some people get discounts and others don’t?
A—This is determined by the role or job they take. The majority of the volunteer jobs take 2-4 hours a day at camp. This leaves more than 80% of the people with lots of time to participate in the programs, be with their family and have ample time for sharing and rejuvenation. We have roles that require significant investments of time during camp, anywhere from 6-12 hours per day and some roles that require their active work year round. Our leadership team determines these roles and the discounts. These are shown in our financial reports and anyone can apply for these roles. These keep our costs low, allow us to operate year-round, successful programs and yet not burn anyone out.
Q—You have service projects each year. Why do you do this and how did this get started?
A—Around 2002, our programs were growing very rapidly. We needed to expand from two to three weeks to accommodate the demand. Because we have to apply each year to the Park System that operates Camp Shehaqua to use these facilities, there is a lot of competition with other groups to use them as well. We knew that serving others would be a good experience for the kids and that “being the best group” might help us get more time allocated by the decision makers at Hickory Run State Park, PA. So each year, we discuss and plan projects with the Park staff that will improve the facility and lower their expenses. They often contribute materials, and we invest some money each year and provide manpower. It is a great partnership, which has allowed us to continue to use Camp Shehaqua. We have a good working relationship with the staff at Camp Innabah where our Winter Retreat is held as well.
Q—You now have 3 generations attending programs. How do you see this changing things, if at all, going forward?
A—That is a great question. Our programs are centered on the family, and we are trying to model our programs after Principled family dynamics. In addition to young adults and families, our programs are well positioned to include families with young children. We have both young adults and young parents leading every program and activity, but we don’t leave the young adult leaders all by themselves. We provide them with older couples who act as mentors and a have a wealth of experience. It’s not perfect yet, but we have a great group of young adults and families with children under 12 actively leading our programs. We strive to provide some stability and familiarity in our programs while always looking for new ways to change and grow. It is really a part of our culture now.