Summer Camp Memoir: Steven Howard

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This past summer was my 8th summer working at The Woods. I often get asked by friends and family, "Why do you always go back to camp? Why don't you get a real job?" My first thought is usually, "Where else is it acceptable for me to run around the woods dressed up like a pirate?" While that is a great reason to work at camp, it is not my actual response to that question. The real reason I keep coming back each summer is because of the community that thrives within that forest. The intentional community creates a unique type of environment during the summers that provides a very special experience for all who are a part of it. There is something special that the summer staffers and campers bring to The Woods that allows such a community to grow and flourish. Much like the redwoods that surround us, we share a willingness to create relationships that go deeper, our roots and stories intertwining into a solid foundation that creates a support system rarely seen in the outside world.

That very support system has helped me through many of the ups and downs in life and has always been there to support me through everything. This has led me to experience a tremendous amount of growth in both my personal life as well as my spiritual life. My faith started many years ago standing in the middle of the labyrinth one summer evening as a high school camper and has been growing and nurtured over the years largely due to this community. Many of the people I have met throughout my years at The Woods have become more than my closest friends: they have become my family. With every passing summer new friendships take root and sprout while the older ones continue to grow stronger and mature. The Woods has been such influential part of my life; the experiences I have had and the people I have met over the years have helped shape me into the person I am today. Many of the most important decisions of my life, such as what college I decided to attend and the career path that I am on, have been largely influenced by the summer community. If it wasn’t for this community I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today.  The impact that it has had on my life is immense.

Because of the tremendous amount of love and support I personally have received from this community, I feel that it is only natural to want to reflect that same love and support to others. I want to help nurture and provide a solid foundation for them grow so that they can have the best camp experience we can offer. The Woods is a "sanctuary for transformative experiences," and one of my goals in the summer is to help ensure that all who cross that bridge know that. The Woods isn’t just a place in the middle of the redwoods to me; it is a home. Within this forest people get to be who they really are and know that no matter what, they are loved and supported by the whole community.  When they leave this place they are not leaving as friends but as family. And  no matter how long it might be until they cross that bridge again, whether it be weeks, months or even years, they will always be welcomed home.

No job gets any more real than that.

Summer Camp Memoir: Emma Diamond

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When my mom told me I would be going away to a week-long summer camp when I was in 4th grade, my immediate reaction was fear. I didn’t want to leave my family and the comfort of my own home to stay somewhere so foreign to me with people I didn’t know. Nevertheless, my mom insisted that I go and try something new. I soon found myself at the beginning of a journey that would change my life.

There’s nowhere else in the world like Westminster Woods, and that is what makes it such a special place. Where else can you spend a week dedicating all your time to fellowship, fun, and growing closer to God? 

I’ve met so many amazing, genuine people at Westminster Woods, and that is a big part of what brings me back year after year. I love the technology-free environment camp provides; it allows me to have real conversations with my peers and enables a certain closeness to form that I don’t have with my friends outside of camp. Some of the people I’ve met have become some of my closest friends, and I talk to many of them through social media on a daily basis. It’s astonishing how one week at the Woods allows me to develop relationships as intimate as some outside of camp I’ve worked to strengthen for years. 

I also enjoy the Christian community that comes together at the Woods and the feeling of mutual support while on our individual journeys of faith. The counselors and leaders are also an important part of the Woods and become role models for me as I try to navigate my own relationship with God. 

Westminster Woods wouldn’t be what it is without the crazy amount of fun that is had every summer. From night games to the hoedown, the whole week is filled with constant surprises and entertainment. Yet, there is a perfect balance between the fun of the camp and the real reason we attend.

When you walk onto the Westminster Woods grounds you can immediately feel God’s presence, and you start to see God in everything you do and the people around you. Every morning, waking up, attending in•spire, and devoting that time to God is such a moving experience. Emmaus walks are another way that I see God throughout the week: getting to spend an hour with someone you barely know and learning about their faith story makes God that much more visible. 

After eight years of attending summer camp and weekend retreats, Westminster Woods has become my second home and the people there, my second family. It’s the one place I look forward to going to the most in my life and the place I miss the most when I leave. With this upcoming summer being my senior year, it’s going to be so hard leaving somewhere that has played such a huge role in my young life. However, I know I can keep with me the friends I have made and the lessons I have learned from my times at Westminster Woods forever.

6 Reasons Why Schools Love Westminster Woods (and You Might, Too)

1.  Science!  Not only do our science blocks support Next Generation Science Standards, we also have two hands-on labs that prompt students to ask questions, look for patterns, and construct explanations about the world around them.  Click to read more about our Microscope and Skulls Labs.

2. Social-Emotional Learning!  For over a decade, Westminster Woods has been dedicated to Social-Emotional Learning on our Challenge Course.  Our facilitators are highly trained in leading students through fun and engaging activities that promote social and self-awareness and relationship skills.

3. Partnerships!  Westminster Woods has a longstanding partnership with UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, creator of the cutting edge BEETLES environmental education curriculum.  We are also piloting an evening program developed by the National Marine Sanctuaries and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

4.  Small Group Sizes!  Students spend their time at The Woods in trail groups of 10 – 15 students.  These small group sizes allow for individual attention, group cohesion, and new friendships.

5. Seasoned Teacher Naturalists!  Our Teacher Naturalists are kind, inclusive, and have extensive post-college experience in teaching, science, and outdoor leadership.  Every school year, we spend 10 days of staff development where we work to build community, learn new material, and stay at the forefront of best teaching practices.

6. See what’s to love in our new introductory video!

The Woods: Best Summer Camp in Sonoma County!

 
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We did it!  Westminster Woods was voted Sonoma County’s Best Summer Camp of 2018!  Thank you to everyone who voted and to everyone who makes this place so special!  We couldn’t do it without you.

What this means for us: We will be attending the Press Democrat’s Best of Sonoma County awards ceremony in October and rocking our Best of Sonoma County badge with pride.  Look for us in the Press Democrat’s Best of Sonoma magazine in October!

What this means for you: Our award-winning programming runs year-round, with Camp in the summer, School Programs in the academic year, and Youth and Adult Weekend Retreats and Group Rentals throughout the year.  Want to get involved? Check back soon to register for one of our Fall and Winter Weekends!  And don’t forget to post your favorite photo on our Facebook page with #thewoodsisthebest.

Fall and Winter Weekends:

Weekend at the Woods • Fun for the whole family • September 28 – 30, 2018

NovemberBash • Grades 6 – 8 • November 2 – 4, 2018

DecemberFest • Grades 9 – 12 • December 7 – 9, 2018

Women’s Weekend • January 11 – 13, 2019

Forest Adventure • Grades 4 – 6 • February 8 – 10, 2018

Men’s Weekend • February 15 – 17, 2019

Summer Staff Memoir: Alan Kraut

 
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I’ve been trying to think about how to describe why I keep going back to camp. And it’s a hard thing to describe. The reason, I think, that’s it’s so hard, is that I don’t really ask myself anymore whether I’m going to go back to camp. Westminster Woods is simply the place that I go in the summers. The question has ceased to be whether and started to be things like when and how. To a certain extent, even the phrase “going back to camp” feels a little weird to me. I feel like a part of me is always there…or maybe like the Woods is a part of me. So I guess I keep going back to camp because that is a part of what makes me who I am. Of course, that is an enormously unsatisfying answer, so I’ll answer the related question: how did Westminster Woods come to be such an important part of my life and my identity?

Probably the most central thing that makes camp so important in my life is the community. When I get excited about summer camp starting up again, it’s not just about the games, the songs, and the talks. It’s about the people I will get to see and the ones I will get to meet. The culture at camp is one that encourages making and building strong relationships, which makes camp an easy place to get connected and stay connected. One of my most memorable weeks as a camper was when I came for a small group camp in which I knew nobody at the beginning. Despite being very nervous about it coming in, by the time I left I felt like that group included some of my best friends in the world. (And, in fact, I was recently the best man in one of their weddings.)

In addition to the connections I’ve made, Westminster Woods has also had a huge impact on forming the person who I am. Summer camp makes me unafraid to be myself, and eventually that started rubbing off on the rest of my life as well. When I was in elementary school I was a shy, awkward kid. I liked myself well enough, but I had very little confidence in social situations. By the time I got to high school, though, that had changed. I knew who I was, was proud of who I was, and even had the confidence to join the improv club, an act which involved literally putting my oddities on display. I attribute much of that change to my time as a camper here.

 
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The message given at the Woods is that you can be silly, you can be unusual, you can be yourself, whoever you are. And no matter what, you are loved, you are welcome, and you are a valuable part of the community we are building. This comes through in everything from being asked for your input in cabin talks to playing games where your counselors (unquestionably the coolest people at camp) are making absolute fools of themselves…and loving it. This gave me the confidence to be open, real, and unapologetic about who I am, and that confidence gradually shaped me in the rest of the year, as well as when I was at camp.

Camp didn’t just help me be myself, though. It also helped me be my best self. It helped me remember what is truly important: being kind to the people I’m with, striving to have more empathy for everyone, and being a reflection of God’s love in this world. That is a journey I will never be done with, and my time at the Woods always helps me refocus and recognize that that is the center of my life. Not money, not leisure, not even imparting knowledge to my students…it’s love that defines who I am and how well I am living. The community at the Woods makes it easy to remember that and has an explicitly stated shared understanding of the importance of truly loving everyone around us.

So that is what makes Westminster Woods so central in my life. It has people that have become a family to me, it helps me be true to who I am, and it helps me change who I am to be better and better. And every time a new camper comes across that bridge, my hope is that they will experience those things too.

 

Vote for The Woods as the Best Summer Camp!

HUGE News!

Westminster Woods has been nominated as the Best Summer Camp in Sonoma County!

The readers of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat have chosen Westminster Woods as one of the Top Summer Camps in their annual Best of Sonoma County awards!  We already know why we're great -- help us tell everybody by voting today!  Click here, scroll down to "Best Summer Camp" and choose Westminster Woods!

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Help promote The Woods by helping us win!

Aside from offering outstanding camp programs for kids and teens from 2nd-12th grade, Westminster Woods provides training for teens and young adults to take on leadership roles at camp and in their schools, churches, and communities.  And every summer we host Friendship Camp for adults with developmental disabilities -- a fantastic opportunity for these campers to spend time outdoors and in community with our staff and each other! 

Knowing that many families find the cost of sending their child to camp to be challenging, Westminster Woods has a three-tier, “free-will” fee program, in which parents can privately choose the level that is comfortable for them to pay. We also provide extra "Campership" help for those kids or teens in our communities who  may be unable to come to camp because of finances.

In addition to our fantastic Summer Camp, The Woods also offers our renowned School Programs to foster the development of character, community, and science literacy in students through experiential outdoor education.  And we host Guest Groups from all over California who rent our facilities for retreats, family camps, or group getaways.

For these and countless other reasons, we're proud of what we do and proud to share the good news with the rest of the world!  Encourage your friends and family to vote for Westminster Woods today!

School Programs: 2017-2018 School Year

It was an exciting school year at Westminster Woods! Our exceptional staff of Teacher Naturalists served more than 6,300 students from 118 different Northern California schools. More than two thirds of our visiting students had the opportunity to get up in the air in our high ropes challenge course. Thanks to the support of the Margaret V. Ping Foundation, we opened the doors to two brand new indoor laboratories: Many students explored the structure and function of animal bones in our skulls lab, and others got a close look at the invertebrates they collected from Dutch Bill Creek in our microscope lab.

We are so grateful for the amazing classroom teachers and school administrators who coordinated these programs on behalf of their school communities and the 1,275 chaperones that joined the students on campus. Check out the infographic below for more information about the School Programs impact for the 2017-2018 school year. If you are a classroom teacher looking to reserve a program next year, please inquire here.

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Summer Staff Memoir: Becca Brookes

 
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Have you ever seen a dog beach? A stretch of sand with waves crashing, dogs barking, balls hurtling through the air.  Dog beaches are THE place to witness pure joy, playfulness, and overall freedom. For me, Westminster Woods is my dog beach.

I’ve been coming to camp since I was an adventure camper. For some reason, one of the most clear memories I have from that first camp experience was that they had “Very Berry Kix” cereal for breakfast. For a kid from a shredded wheat family such as myself, eating colorful sugar laden breakfast cereal was a big deal. It was new and exciting and strangely liberating. So was sleeping in a tent, meeting “jungle people”, exploring the forest- all without my parents. Like a puppy being let off the leash for the first time, I had a taste of freedom.  

As I grew older that freedom I found at camp seemed to have a deeper meaning. Westminster Woods became a place where I could truly be myself. As we all know, middle school is tough. I spent so much time trying desperately to fit in, be cool and make friends with the right group. But at camp none of that existed. I could dance and sing and be goofy. The environment was welcoming, the people were inviting and the energy was palpable. I still remember how a week of sleeping under the stars, taking minimal showers and searching for buried treasure in Buccaneer camp left me feeling enlightened. Just like a dog on the beach jumping around clumsily, tongue lolling, tail wagging. I was free to be me.

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That sense of freedom has transformed once again as I reflect on my more recent camp years as a staffer. This time I have found freedom in my faith. Westminster Woods is a place where I’ve always felt safe to speak honestly about my relationship with God, share my beliefs, be open with my struggles and even express my doubts. Being able to be vulnerable in this way has helped me to grow as a Christian. Having the freedom to explore, challenge and dive deeply into faith in a supportive community has been an incredible experience. Like a dog that bounces through the surf out into the ocean to fetch his toy, he’s paddling through the waves, gets pummeled a bit but makes it back to shore where his owners are waiting with open arms. It’s the freedom to leave the shore, do some searching and return to a support system that will welcome you AND challenge you to do it all again.

So for me, I come back to camp for that sense of freedom. The off the leash, tongue out, fetching after toys type freedom. If you haven’t done so yet, I highly recommend you experience this at Westminster Woods at your earliest convenience... or check out a dog beach. Preferably do both then you’ll see what I mean.

 

Summer Staff Memoir: Stacy

 
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The Beginning

(2008, at O-Shack)

I had felt lonely and sad for a while. It was the summer before my sophomore year of high school and I wasn’t doing much with myself. My mom signed me up for a week of High School Camp at Westminster Woods and I was excited, but nervous to go. I hoped to meet some nice people, but I just wasn’t sure what to expect. When I got to camp, I was startled to walk out of registration and have strangers dressed like X-Men yelling excitedly, “WELCOME TO CAMP!” I felt overwhelmed when I sat down in my cabin for the first time and one of my cabin counselors prompted, “so tell us the story of your life!” I brushed the question off, because I was so unsure of myself and had such a negative self-image.

I had never before experienced such real love and joy from people I had just met. I remember getting in the car when my mom picked me up on Saturday morning and I wanted to tell her every joke I had laughed at, every game I had played, every friend I made, and everything I had learned. I had gotten a glimpse that week into something different than I’d ever experienced. Camp was a special place because it helped me to feel happy when I hadn’t in a while. It helped me to make friends and feel comfortable in my own skin. It helped me to see that regardless of how I viewed myself that people saw value in me and that I was beloved.

So I took every opportunity from then on to be at camp. I went to Decemberfest, did Bridge, counseled, went to High School Camp, and repeat. Being at the Woods broke down my walls that I had built from shame and feelings of inadequacy that kept me from others and kept others from me. Losing these walls forced me to face how I felt so broken and incomplete and unlovable. But receiving the space to express all of these things did not push people away, but brought them closer. God was using this space to knit me back into the person I was supposed to be, a person who struggles still, but a person who is ultimately happy and knows they are loved.

The Middle

(2017, with all my Lead Counselors)

Then, in 2011, I applied for summer staff. In my head, I had a very specific plan for how I would ideally do staff. I would do it for my four years of college: I would like to be a Lead Counselor and coordinate program. But of course, things didn’t go exactly as planned. But, also of course, they’ve been so much more amazing than I could plan. I couldn’t ignore the tug of staff and have done seven years and counting.

Over this time, I’ve been blessed with so much: I can’t count the times I’ve laughed until I’ve had tears, stomachaches, or until I can’t stand. I’ve have people believe in me enough to give me chances to lead even when I didn’t think I was capable. I’ve also had to opportunity to follow some incredible leaders and learn from them how to be an organized, compassionate, and thoughtful leader. I have had times to be real and raw with others about my fears and for other people to accept those parts of me and for me to not feel alone. I’ve built amazing friendships that are ones that pick up without skipping a beat every summer. The friends that I’ve made from staff also compose most of my friends when I’m not at camp. I’ve also been able to build relationships with campers who come year after year.

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Through all this, my time on staff, I have gained the knowledge that I am braver and stronger than I ever thought I could be.

The End

(2017, praying in Adventure Camp)

I’m not really at the end of my camp story just yet, just at the end of the story so far. There’s a certain spot on the drive to camp, a right turn onto Green Hill Road. Every time I drive past this point, it feels like heavy blankets are being lifted off of me. That turn tells me that I’m close to camp, a place that is safe and happy. It’s hard to stay away from that feeling for too long. I’m so excited to return this summer for year eight of staff!

I’m a lot less lonely and a lot less sad then when I first came to the Woods, but I’ve learned that doesn’t mean that I can’t feel that way sometimes. Those feelings are a part of being a human and what we do with them is very important.

Camp at Westminster Woods has formed a foundational part of who I am: My friends out in the world are the ones who I met on staff. So much of what I do as a classroom teacher is influenced by what I learned from coordinating program at the Woods. When I had to evacuate from my home because of wildfires, camp was the safe place that I went.

I keep coming back because camp is a place that is safe, joyful, and makes me feel whole. I also keep coming back because I feel like I still have something to contribute, something that was given to me when I first came to camp. I come to camp with the hope that campers can also see that they too are beloved.

 

Skulls Lab

Students at Westminster Woods are getting up close and personal with animal bones in our new skulls lab.  The lab, which is housed in a yurt in our redwood forest, includes many replica animal skulls, including red fox, little brown bat, red tailed hawk, and even a dolphin. When curious students discover that the round, green yurt is filled with skulls, many of them ask excitedly, “Will we get to go in there?”

The new lab is a powerful addition to the hands-on curriculum that is the backbone of our Forest Ecology program.  Forest Ecology is grounded in Next Generation Science Standards and experiential learning.  In the lab, professional Teacher Naturalists engage students in a structure and function lesson where students identify skulls by making close observations and asking questions. With so many skulls to explore, students may marvel at the jaw strength of a sea lion, compare the sharp canine teeth of a coyote with the molars of a deer, and explore the difference in scale of a mountain lion versus a bobcat. Students may make observations about the size and length of the nasal cavity of a black bear compared to a striped skunk or the optical orbit location of a mouse compared to a great horned owl.

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The lab is already a big hit with students who love being able to carefully handle the skulls themselves.  And at the end of a day of hiking and learning about the forest, many students share that their visit to the skulls lab was the highlight of their day! 

Many thanks to the Margaret V. Ping Foundation, Michael Roa, and Valley Anatomocal Preparations, for making the dream of the skulls lab a reality!  We are thrilled to share the new skulls lab with many of the thousands of students that attend our School Programs each year.

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Summer Staff Memoir: Emme

 
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I have come to camp every year ever since I can remember. It has always been the place I imagine when I’m told to go to my “happy place”. I imagine strolling down Nazarian Way beneath towering trees, and holding a glass mug filled with warm tea. The plum trees along the side of the road are blossoming and there are kids yelling and screaming all over the big green field, in the gaga ball pit, and on the playground. Laughter is everywhere.

This is where I’ve spent a lot of my life growing up. I’ve gone through grief, joy, friendship, and frustration; all of it here. When it was all too much, there was always someone waiting to listen. When the joy was too much, there was always someone to laugh with. Camp for me is a sense of belonging to a group of people called “camp people”. We’re teachers, pastors, students, and really anyone with a heart full of love. Summer Staff is about sharing the threads of your life with a group of people for 6 weeks and weaving something beautiful.

But the skills we learn, the people we become, the courage we store up; it doesn’t all stay here when we leave. We take our experiences working with different age groups, abilities, cultures, and ways of thinking into the real world with us. That’s why I keep coming back: to kindle the same spirit in the lives of every camper I come into contact with. To encourage them to keep coming back and learning more about themselves and God, and what it all means in the real lives we live. As great as a week at summer camp is, we spend most of the time trying to prepare them for when they leave. We try to give kids a real, honest, and practical Christianity that they can understand in the context of their daily lives.

When I graduated high school and left the day after my ceremony to show up for our Summer Staff orientation week, I was incredibly excited but really nervous. Did I really have what it takes to be a summer staffer? There was no question in my mind that this was how I wanted to spend my summer. But, I didn’t know what it was like to spend 5 weeks straight doing camp. Would I be able to counsel all different ages? What about Friendship Camp, our camp for developmentally disabled adults? Would I be patient, responsible, and sensitive enough for their needs? My first Friendship Camp came and while there were hard moments, it was all worth it because friendship campers are filled with joy! While all campers have struggles, not every camp has this unbridled sense of happiness and belonging. That week I learned that the secret to Friendship Camp was love.

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Over two years after my first summer on summer staff I was flying to California for a part of my winter break from college. I noticed one of the passengers on my flight was guided over to his seat and he was talking loudly to his attendant. I recognized a lot of his language patterns, like when he got stuck thinking in loops, “I get off the plane in San Fransisco, right? I get off the plane in San Fransisco, right? Then I get on the plane to Houston to see my brother? Then I get on the plane to Houston to see my brother?”. The passenger reminded me of my friendship campers: I thought there was a strong possibility that this man had some sort of developmental disability and he was being cared for by the airline attendants. It wasn’t any of my business, but I was surprised that I hadn’t ever remembered seeing an adult with developmental disabilities flying on a plane by themselves before.

I went to use the restroom before the plane took off and through the thin plastic wall of the airplane bathroom I could clearly hear sobbing. I washed my hands and left the bathroom. When I turned the corner I noticed a flight attendant comforting the man, “It’s okay, Evan,” I heard in passing.  He was clearly upset, and I knew that having a buddy sit with him might help with the anxiety that may come with flying.  When the flight attendant passed me, I pulled her aside, “Hey, I don’t know if this would be helpful, but I’m trained in working with Developmentally Disabled adults, its part of what I do during the summer, and if you’d like I’d be happy to sit with Evan and see if I can cheer him up!”. All my words came tumbling out of my mouth. I was nervous. I didn’t want to seem like a know-it-all and impose, but I did want to help if I could. The stewardess jumped at my offer, “If you wouldn’t mind that would be so sweet”! She began to tear up, “He has had such a rough morning”.

As I moved my backpack and myself to the back of the cabin and sat with Evan, I wanted to get to know him. I introduced myself, and he returned the favor. As I asked Evan questions about his life, I told him about mine. When we took off, I told him that it was just like a roller coaster, “We’ll go really fast at first, but then fast will feel normal. There might be some bumps, but the pilot is the best pilot in Alaska Airlines whole fleet, so he’s got us covered”.

The rest of the flight was smooth sailing. When I read, I looked up from my book every couple minutes just to double check that all was merry, but Evan had quelled the sadness within him. The only thing he asked me for was help opening his coffee cup because the lid was too tight! The rest of the flight went easily, including the surprise turbulence and the roller-coaster hands-up landing!

Sitting with Evan was no big deal, and it allowed me to truly be present on a plane ride I probably would have wasted otherwise. However, such a simple thing as sitting with someone wasn’t so easy for me two years ago. When I graduated from high school, I no doubt would have had empathy for Evan, but I don't think I would have been comfortable or courageous enough to offer my services to go sit with him. Working at The Woods gave me those things, but more importantly The Woods gives similar experiences, skills and courage to everyone who sets foot across the bridge. Camp gives us the ability to go out into our communities and change them for the better.

So yeah, summer camp is exhausting but there is also this feeling that no matter where we came from, who we are, or who our parents are: we all are God’s children. This is what is so crucially electrifying about Christian youth ministry. Christian ministry is about creating a family of fellow believers, of people trying their best. We walk with each other so that nobody has to walk through life alone.

One Day Challenge Course Programs

Are you familiar with Westminster Woods’ one day challenge course programs?  On our extensive redwood challenge course, students develop teamwork, cooperation, trust, and perseverance through activities facilitated by our professional staff. In small groups, students will collaborate to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and strengthen the classroom community. Programs typically are held 9:30-4:30 and include teambuilding initiatives and an optional high ropes experience.

The day begins with students meeting their Teacher Naturalist facilitators and learning important concepts such as ‘Challenge by Choice’ and ‘Success at Every Step’ that set the tone of both focus and fun for the rest of the day. Then in small trail groups of about 10-14, students will complete a series of fun, community building initiatives that build into complex team challenges. These activities are specifically designed to increase the group’s ability to effectively communicate, problem solve, think critically, and evoke personal leadership abilities.

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After a morning of teambuilding activities, many schools opt to add two high ropes elements to their afternoon. Teacher Naturalists carefully choose two elements to meet the needs of their group. Students have the opportunity to challenge themselves as individuals, work as partners, and coalesce as a team as they support each other through mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding high ropes activities.

 
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At the end of the day, the whole school comes together to complete a closing activity, reflect on their challenge course experience, and connect what they have learned to daily life. One day challenge course programs are a great opportunity for school groups to strengthen their community and set the tone for the school year ahead.

Are you a teacher interested in reserving a challenge course program for your students? Inquire here!

Winter Programs at The Woods

Winter is a magical time to be at Westminster Woods. During the winter months, the forest becomes a lush paradise with swelling creeks and tributaries, spawning coho salmon, meandering banana slugs, and flourishing plants and mushrooms. If you’re lucky enough to come to The Woods in the winter, you might get the chance to explore all that a thriving coastal redwood ecosystem has to offer in the wet season.

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Rain or shine, our Teacher Naturalists run meaningful and engaging school programs. On rainy days when groups venture out on trail, everyone is equipped with a sturdy poncho to stay dry.

After adventuring into the forest and observing the effects of a good rainstorm, students can dive deeper into their scientific practices in our two new indoor laboratories. In the microscope lab, students have the opportunity to discover a microscopic world they may have never noticed before. And in our skulls lab, students can explore the structure and function of animals that live right here at Westminster Woods!

 
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On cold and wet days we may wind down together with a hot cup of cocoa and class meetings can be held around the meeting room fireplace. At night, students and chaperones stay cozy in heated cabins. Sabertooth, one of our legendary Teacher Naturalists, first came to The Woods as a 7th grade student. When he remembers his week of rainy adventures, he recalls “My Teacher Naturalist told me there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes for climate. So, we put on our ponchos, laced up our rain boots and had a great time splashing in puddles and searching for critters. The hardest part was getting home and trying to explain to my mom that I wanted to play outside in the rain.” Whether the sun is shining or rain is falling, students, teachers, and chaperones are sure to a have a memorable experience at Westminster Woods.

 

Check out this video made by one of our amazing schools for a sneak peak into a school trip to Westminster Woods!

Updates from The Woods

Dear Friends of The Woods,

We are eternally grateful for the support we receive from the amazing Westminster Woods community. It is because of all of you that we are able to provide a wonderful facility and quality programming to schools, churches, guest groups, families, and everyone in between. In this brief report, we have exciting news to share, and a summary of 2017 finances.

First, our School Programs department, which provides thousands of students each year with outstanding character development and science programs, received generous support in 2017 from the Margaret V. Ping Foundation and other donors, for a brand new microscope lab and a skulls and skins lab! These two labs, created to support our teaching of Next Generation Science Standards, have already been a hit – students have been able to discover a whole new world within natural objects they observed while hiking and exploring throughout The Woods.

We have long wished to upgrade and remodel our camp cabins with added bathrooms, but the limitations of our septic system have stood in our way. After four years working with a specialist to develop plans to upgrade our system, the plans have finally been approved by Sonoma County!  We have three years to complete the septic work, but we can begin with a model cabin or two as soon as this year.  Our community’s continued support will be as important as ever, with plans to keep upgrading cabins until the job is done. Here’s to the future of The Woods!

We have a few big 2018 events to announce, starting with Westminster Woods Friends & Family Summer Camp, which will be Tuesday, July 31st – Friday, August 3rd!  This all-new camp program will be run by our Ministries and Summer Staff Leadership Team.  We invite all friends of the Woods, including families, grandparents, individuals, and former staffers to join us.  Registration coming soon!

The all-new Ocean Trek fundraiser will take place on Saturday, September 29th – a 13-mile hike from The Woods to the Sonoma Coast!  In conjunction, our Weekend at The Woods will be September 28th-30th – families, couples, friends, and singles of all backgrounds are welcome for  swimming, Challenge Course, hiking, games, campfires, and S’mores!

Details about all of these events will be shared via email, social media, and our website – stay tuned for updates!  In the meantime, thank you for your continued support of our mission and goals.  Please refer to the Give Back page of our website for donation options. 

Counting Our Blessings - 2017 at a Glance

Westminster Woods is growing stronger – financially and overall – thanks to the dedicated efforts of our staff and board, and the faithful support of our donors.

We ended 2017 with a net revenue of $97,000 over expenses. These funds will largely be used toward upgrading our septic system and remodeling cabins, which should help increase our future revenue!

We encourage you to make supporting our camp ministry a regular part of your planned giving. Regardless of whether you contribute monthly, quarterly, or annually, your tax-deductible gift will make a difference in the lives of kids, teens, and adults, in 2018 and for years to come.

Here’s a glance at our 2017 revenue sources and how our expenses were allocated. Note that revenues from our renowned Challenge Course program are included under income for School Programs, Guest Groups, and Ministries.

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With gratitude and faith,

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Chris Rhodes                                        Brian Gidney                                                                          Executive Director                                Board President

6 Reasons to Send Your Child to Summer Camp at The Woods

Have you signed your child up for summer camp yet? Summer Camp at Westminster Woods is a life changing and life giving experience. From new experiences to new friends, your child will come away with life long memories. Take a look at the list below for six of the reasons to send your camper to summer camp. 

6 Reasons to Send Your Child to Summer Camp at The Woods!

1. UNPLUG 

In today’s fast paced culture we need to practice unplugging from the over stimulation of data and technology. This steady stream of information and stimulation impacts the still-developing minds of children in many ways. Therefore, it is important to help children learn that removing yourself from the screen filled world is not only a good thing, but also vital for their developmental health. Summer camp is a tech free zone. Without the distraction of phones, gaming devises, and tablets children are free to play using the original play devise… their imagination and nature.

2. UNCOVERING NEW PASSIONS

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Summer Camp is a great opportunity to stretch and grow through trying new things. Westminster Woods provides unique experiences and activities for children to challenge and grow themselves in developmentally appropriate ways including challenge course, outdoor exploration, faith based activities, and play. 

3. NEW FRIENDSHIPS

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Campers will learn vital interpersonal relationship skills such as, learning to actively listen to others and beginning to understand empathy.  Plus the value of life-long friendships created through engaging activities, a week of play, intentional conversations with small groups and at meals. 

4. PLAY 

Have free time for unstructured play. “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”- Plato Most therapists today say that children are over scheduled. Their lives are so packed they don’t have time to play. For more information about the importance of play check out the National Institute for Play.

5. CONNECT WITH NATURE  

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God created the world and so often we miss the beauty around us. At Westminster Woods we seek to help children slow down and see what God created. For many of our campers it is the first time ever seeing the forest and we have the privilege of helping them see the beauty of creation. Spending time in nature is an amazing way to connect with God and find a respect for this little planet we live on. We are located in a coastal redwood forest and the historic Dutch Bill Creek runs through our property. Campers will be able to explore this property by hiking, stream activities, and intentional reflection time in nature.

6. CONNECT WITH GOD 

Our desire at Westminster Woods is to create a safe spiritual space to encounter the Triune God (Creator, Savior, and Holy Spirit). Where campers can experience God, question God, and discover God without feeling pressure to believe something they are not ready to believe. Westminster Woods holds the belief that this place is one of the many avenues of faith discovery. A week at summer camp allows campers to encounter God through engaging with summer staffers, fellow campers, speakers and other volunteers to uncover more of who God is in their life. This place is a stepping stone of faith, where campers can take home the mystery of faith to continue to uncover more of our loving God.

Register before April 1st and receive a $25 discount. Use the code “EARLYBIRD” at the online checkout or on your paper registration form. Please don’t hesitate to contact the Ministries Department if you have questions about the program or registration.

Click here to register or find more information about summer camp!

School Programs: Fall 2017

Westminster Woods School Programs “fosters the development of character, community, and science literacy in students through experiential outdoor education.” During the fall of 2017, School Programs provided programming to nearly 2,500 students from 50 different schools! From the first week of September through the middle of December, students came to The Woods to participate in forest ecology hikes, watershed ecology studies, and challenge course experiences. Whether they were studying macroinvertebrates in our brand new microscope lab, working together to solve team challenges, or singing songs around the campfire, students were able to connect with their classmates and learn about their natural environment in an exciting camp setting. Check out the School Programs infographic below for more data on the reach and impact from fall 2017!

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Westminster Woods has a New Logo!

Dear Friends of The Woods,

Westminster Woods has been serving the community for over 70 years and a lot has changed and evolved during that time. As we grow, it is important that our logo continues to represent our ever-adapting organization. You may have already noticed our new website and social media presence, and we are thrilled to debut our new logo as another unifying visual representation of The Woods.

THE PROCESS

The administrative staff and board members discussed the values of Westminster Woods - from their perspective and their campers' - and developed elements that would best represent those values in a logo. The elements you may notice include:

  • Three trees: In likeness to the stunning forest that spans our 200 acre campus, and to represent the Holy Trinity, three redwoods were incorporated.
  • Circle: To represent both the everlasting love of God and our commitment to serving our community, the trees were wrapped in a circle.

After weeks of collaborative design, line tweaking, and font choosing, we finished our new logo! I want to extend a special thanks to Katie O'Brien, our new Communications Coordinator for her leadership during the process, and Jonny Angulo, one of our new Teacher Naturalists for his computer design skills. 

WHAT THIS MEANS

You will see our new logo in various places including our website, social media channels, and the summer camp brochure (hitting doorsteps any day!). Stay tuned for future communication and camp store merchandise with the new design. 

In Faith,

Chris Rhodes, Executive Director

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Ping Microscope Lab

School groups come to Westminster Woods to engage in hands-on, experiential education in our 200 acre outdoor classroom . While here, our professional Teacher Naturalists design lessons to inspire curiosity, student collaboration and investigation. Students engage in redwood ecology hikes, challenge course adventures, and stream studies in Dutch Bill Creek. To further enhance this exceptional experience, we have added a new microscope lab! This lab allows students to explore the world around them on a new level: the microscopic level!

Students might collect benthic macro invertebrates in the creek and then use the microscopes to observe the structure and function of a dragonfly nymph. Students may conduct a lichen investigation and then use the microscopes to compare the structure within different lichens. Students might use the microscopes to make observations of patterns within redwood cones and then utilize their journals to make detailed scientific drawings. Students may investigate decomposition within soil and discuss their findings with peers.  

The microscope lab was built to support our teaching of Next Generation Science Standards and has already been a hit with students!  Students have been able to discover a whole other world within natural objects they observed while hiking and exploring throughout Westminster Woods. Their curiosity and enjoyment can be witnessed as students interact with the microscopes. Exclamations of “I’m a scientist!” and “this is so cool, can we come back again, later?” can be heard as students react with wonder and awe of their new discoveries. 

We are grateful to the generosity of the Margaret V. Ping Foundation and excited to use our microscopes as tools to bring science and learning alive.  

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Giving Back

November 2017


Dear Friends of The Woods,
  
Sonoma County and other areas of the North Bay are just starting to recover from last month’s devastating wildfires, which will have wide, long-lasting effects. We are extremely grateful that Westminster Woods was spared from any fire damage and all of our staff members are safe.  
  
This crisis has impacted so many in our area, and we have been reminded of the role we can fill in helping people deal with loss. In response to the fires, we opened our beautiful campus to members of the affected community for Free Open Space Play Days while the fires were still active. Several hundred liberated kids and their grateful parents came to play outside and enjoy a respite from the toxic air closer to the fires.   
  
Our School Programs department proudly serves over 15 schools from the Santa Rosa area, but many of those have had to cancel their annual outdoor education trips due to the fires. As a result, we are now offering any available space to other schools in the areas affected by the fires as a place to gather and spend time in nature. We are blessed to be able to support our community during this unprecedented, challenging time.
   
We know that many of you have already made significant contributions toward helping those in need during this time. While The Woods has lost significant income as a result of the fires, we are confident that, with the support of our community, we will finish the year strong and have our best year yet in 2018. Please consider making a donation to help us continue to provide a sanctuary for transformative experiences to our guests.  
  
If you would like to make an online donation, visit our Give Back page. If you prefer to send a donation by check, our address is:

Westminster Woods
6510 Bohemian Hwy.
Occidental, CA 95465

Thank you for your support of The Woods. 
  
In Faith,

Chris Rhodes, Executive Director
 

Post-Fire Community Gathering Space

Post-Fire Community Gathering Space
Monday – Thursday
10:00 – 4:00
October 25 – December 14

Westminster Woods
6510 Bohemian Highway
Occidental, California 95465
logistics@westminsterwoods.org 
707-874-2426 x623

School communities that were affected by 2017 wildfires are invited to come together at Westminster Woods.

We welcome groups of up to 120 people to meet on our beautiful campus in Occidental. Your space will include one indoor meeting room as well as access to our outdoor playground, grass field, and redwood picnic grove. We are excited to share our space with as many schools as possible, but unfortunately reservations will be subject to availability.

Teachers can inquire by emailing the following information to Paige (logistics@westminsterwooods.org):

  • Coordinating teacher name and email
  • School name
  • Expected number of participants
  • Desired date range (if any)

Please note that this offer is available 10:00 – 4:00, Monday – Thursday through December 14, 2017. Groups must bring their own food (as needed), and are asked to help clean up their area before departure.

Westminster Woods Camp and Conference Center is nestled amid a forest of coastal redwoods and offers year-round opportunities for connection, reflection, discovery, and growth. Learn more at www.westminsterwoods.org.