Ridge Haven Conference and Retreat Center, the PCA’s camp nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, once served hundreds of campers every summer. Now, it’s trying to keep up with almost 4,500.
“The Lord is blessing Ridge Haven beyond what I ever could have imagined,” said Richard Smith, who has served on Ridge Haven’s board various times since the 1990s. “This is a time for celebration!”
In order to match its growth, Ridge Haven launched a $2.8 million capital campaign (completed this past September) that has resulted in 14 new camper cabins, a new dining hall, a renovated pavilion, and a new recreational complex.
The decision came three years ago when “we were busting at the seams,” said Wallace Anderson, Ridge Haven’s executive director. The camp was running out of bed space, struggling to feed everyone, and – worst of all – turning people away.
Meanwhile, various facilities weren’t up to code. The dining hall was designed to serve 250 people, but during the past few summers the camp needed to feed as many as 500 diners each day. The new dining hall — dubbed the “Jim and Judy Jolly Dining Hall” in honor of PCA elder and Covenant College former board chair and his wife — will be equipped to serve as many as 400 guests per seating.
The new housing comes in the form of three new “camper villages,” including the new “Shenandoah Village” named after one of the PCA’s inaugural churches, Shenandoah Presbyterian Church in Miami, Florida. Although the church no longer exists, former members of its youth group contributed the funds to build the village, which accommodates 150 more campers per week. All six cabins in the village will be named after members of the youth group, including Harry Kaplan, Bill Iverson, and Dominic Aquila.
Although the changes come in the form of brick and mortar, Anderson believes the real impact will ultimately be eternal. Being able to serve 150 more campers at any given time results in at least 1,500 more youth every summer who will have the opportunity to hear the Gospel in a fresh environment.
With studies citing discouraging numbers of churched youth walking away from congregations before and during high school, places such as Ridge Haven that help young people see their faith as relevant matter more than ever.
Anderson says that one of the main reasons Ridge Haven has such an impact is that campers see genuine faith in people they look up to — their counselors, who are usually just a few years older than them. The impact of seeing someone slightly older modeling the Gospel and Christian life motivates younger kids to begin seeing their parents’ faith as their own.
“It’s usually one of the first few times that kids are away from their parents. One of the first times they can make it their own … first time they thought, ‘It’s not just my parents’ faith. It’s mine, ” said Andrew Breed. Breed started coming to Ridge Haven with his family long before he was old enough to camp. He has made the transition from observer to camper to summer staff, and now works there full time as group coordinator.
As a counselor Breed was trained to talk about the Gospel one-on-one with each of his campers and said he now finds joy knowing Ridge Haven continues to put an emphasis on sharing the Gospel with each camper individually. From his years as a camper to now being a permanent member of the Ridge Haven Team, Breed said he is excited to continue the heart of the camp’s ministry in this new phase.
“These new facilities allow us to bring in more kids and have more fun without sacrificing our ability to share the Gospel with everyone,” Breed said. “And for all of us, that’s what this place is about.”