Summer Camp: Life Lessons & S’more

March 2023

by brooke wagner

For many young people, summer camp is where the magic happens – things just hit different while away from the real world. They can be unapologetically themselves, or even reinvent themselves in the wide-open spaces of summer camp. Indeed, for three couples, summer camp is where their love stories began. Come along as they share their stories of how summers at Clydehurst Christian Ranch impacted their lives as teens and, now, the lives of their families.  

Scott & Carla 

Photo courtesy of Carla Brownson- Scott & Carla in 1995 at Clydehurst 

Carla Brownson and her husband, Scott, have been a part of Clydehurst Christian Ranch for many years, first as counselors and then as Program Directors. Scott became Director of Operations in 2011, and the couple has been at the ranch consistently for the past 12 summers. Scott, especially, has a rich history there, growing up under the wide-open spaces and snow-capped mountains of the Boulder River Valley. Wayne and Judy, Scott's parents, became camp directors in 1970. Carla and Scott and their three children have followed in the family's footsteps, raising their crew at Clydehurst. Carla says, "They were 9, 6, and 9 months old when we came on staff full time. They are now 21, 18, and 12. They love camp, and the two older ones have been on summer staff for several years. They get to spend their entire summer up at Clydehurst and they get so excited every spring to get back up there."  

Photo courtesy of Carla Brownson- The Brownson Family- Scott, Carla, Joslyn, Cooper, and Brooklyn 

Physical, Mental, and Relational Benefits of Summer Camp 

The Brownsons have seen the benefits that a summer camp experience can bring firsthand. Campers spend time in the great outdoors, trying new activities that might otherwise be unavailable in their hometown. Physical activities like hiking, horseback riding, swimming, and zip-lining get kids moving and happy to leave sedentary habits behind. When the blue skies and fresh air call, kids are all too happy to answer. Mental health is also improved by being more active.  

Carla also notes the relational benefits for kids who attend summer camp. She says, "Summer camp was so fun to me because I loved making new friends, and then getting to see them every summer for that one week. I had a couple friends that I stayed in touch with for years." Campers build relationships different from friendships formed through school or seasonal sports," Carla explains, "There is a vulnerability that happens at summer camp that doesn't happen at school. There is something about getting out of town, and going up into the mountains that seems to get kids to open up. They get away from all the stress and busyness of home, and experience new things. I think it also gives them a chance to open up to their counselors about things they are going through."  

Ariel & Aaron

Photo courtesy of Ariel Koenigsberg- Ariel, Aaron, and their son Jonah

The Brownsons aren't the only ones who sing the praises of a camp experience. Ariel Koenigsberg recalls the way that summer camp positively influenced her life. She says, "My experience was amazing. The week would end, and I would already be thinking about the next summer. It was so much fun to take part in all the activities; swimming, horseback riding, crafts, and so much more. I remember looking up to the counselors and everything they were teaching us. As I got older, the chapel sessions became the foundation of the week. They brought us together to worship and learn more about our personal relationship with Jesus." Ariel recognizes that she learned valuable lessons in the fun times and the more challenging experiences that camp can bring. She says, "For several summers, I lived with eight other girls in one large cabin… Because we were dependent on each other with our daily responsibilities, we had to learn how to overcome our disagreements and move on. At times this was easier said than done! I learned the value of hard work - individually and collectively - as part of a larger team." 

Ariel loved her time as a camper but admits she may have grown even more as a camp staffer. She credits those summers spent forming relationships with other staff members and campers for many lifelong friendships, "Working in an environment like this causes you to be more mindful of those around you, and you learn to get through difficult days or weeks together."

One particular relationship culminated in a marriage that is now over 21 years strong. Ariel met her husband, Aaron, at Clydehurst in the summer of 1999. It was a quintessential love story - he was a camp counselor, and she was a horse wrangler. For the first weeks of camp, the two only crossed paths briefly. Not exactly in the market for a relationship, both had set off that summer with a prayer for a renewed focus on their relationship with the Lord and a desire to serve the campers first. However, as summer days lengthened, the two realized that something more than friendship was developing. Ariel recalls, "We went on horseback rides together on Sunday mornings, sat together by the river, and got to know each other on a deeper level. He saw me at my worst and my best… I also saw a side of him that he didn't show to many people back home. He got to get out of his comfort zone and really become a different person." Fittingly, the two were married in June of 2002 at the ranch where it all began. 

The Koenigsbergs now have one son and have continued their legacy of involvement at the ranch as their family has grown. They fondly state, "It has become as much of a part of his life as it is for us. He wholeheartedly looks forward to going to Clydehurst any chance he can; from the weekend trips up to volunteer for projects to the scheduled retreats or formal weeks of kid's camp, he loves everything about Clydehurst. You could say it's in his blood." 

Emily & Peyton 

Photo courtesy of Emily Leitner- Emily & Peyton counselors at Clydehurst 

Emily and Peyton Leitner are another pair who met as camp counselors. Before coming to Clydehurst, Peyton had worked for camps in Iowa, Montana, California, and Arizona alongside young campers, encouraging them on their spiritual journeys. Emily's mission was similar. She says, "At camp, everyone is working towards the same goal: to see lives changed by Jesus. There are not many times in life when we collectively work to see the great commission come to fruition. Nowhere else in my life have I been to a place where you eat, sleep, pray, and pass time around the same people every day, all day. The relationships I have formed at camp have been more meaningful and impactful due to the fact that they all become your family members for three months." Emily also says that one of her greatest life lessons came from working through one of her greatest challenges. She recalls, "I learned how to rely on others that I normally would not be vulnerable with. Some tasks or challenges are too big for you on your own."

Photo courtesy of Emily Peyton 

Contrary to the Koenigsberg’s romance, Emily and Peyton didn't hit it off immediately. Peyton laughs, "My wife absolutely could not stand me when we first met. I was a little arrogant and loud, to say the least. She could not believe that we got placed on the same team, which meant that we would be working closely together all summer.” However, the more time the pair spent together, the more they realized how much they were falling for each other. Peyton was hesitant to fall into what he called camp love . Thankfully, he had a change of heart after meeting Emily and says, "There is no better way to truly see another person's heart than when they are acting selflessly and serving others. I knew after working with my wife that I would want to serve Christ with her for the rest of my life.” Peyton wouldn’t have come to this realization without their time serving together at camp. Emily agrees and says, "At camp you get to see people at their best, at their worst, and everything in between. Getting to know someone like that is very special and allows you to get to know their heart more quickly than in the regular world . I wouldn't trade my time at Clydehurst for anything. I met the best man I've ever known there, and we love our life together."  

Originally printed in the March 2023 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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