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Camp Allen: 100 Years of Summer Camp

Camp Allen turns 100 this year. In these turbulent, uncertain times, it is nice to see a time honored tradition continue. I don’t know about you, but it gives me great comfort to know that some things are a constant. Not only that, but they are growing and moving forward with new offerings and expansion!

To commemorate this goal, HFM spoke with our friends at Camp Allen to learn a little bit more about where they started, their milestones over the years and what the plans are for the future. It truly is a great story.

100 years is quite an accomplishment! Why do you feel Camp Allen has been able to reach this monumental goal?

Summer camp, generally speaking, provides an invaluable service to families. Campers are given an opportunity to leave home and experience something completely different. The people are new, the environment is new, and the activities are new; these things create windows for growth. Camp Allen can cultivate an environment that keeps campers safe and opens new possibilities for developmental growth. When we find safe places that help us connect and grow as people, those places become important. I think Camp Allen figured this out a long time ago and made it a priority. Also, it helps that Camp Allen is really, really fun.

How did it all begin? Who founded Camp Allen?

Our namesake, Rosa Lum Allen, donated her summer home on Sylvan Bay and later additional land that became a summer camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. In truth, several church leaders played essential roles in creating a vision for what this place could become. Our community owes a debt to all those who saw a need and built an idea into a solution. That gift continues to bless our community today.

There are so many choices when sending your child to camp. What are the philosophies/mission of Camp Allen?

Since our inception, Camp Allen has grown to include summer camp, an outdoor education program, a hotel and conference center for groups and log cabins and lodges for personal retreats. Each maintains different guiding principles. For summer camp, we want to participate in loving God and His people. We hope that by sharing the story of Jesus, our campers will experience the depth of His love for us.

What sets Camp Allen apart from other Texas overnight camps?

Camp Allen is very close to Houston (1 hour northwest) and is immersed in a beautiful natural environment that feels secluded from city life. Camp Allen is unique in that we use our proven history and combine it with modern activities. Our camp was founded on core values that continue today: faith development, dedicated leadership, devotion to community, cultivation of positive relationships, and an outstanding safety record. The age specific camp sessions are led by experienced faith leaders who serve as outstanding role models for today’s youth. We offer big-camp activities with modern tools to help parents connect, and yet, we work hard to keep tuition affordable so that camp will be accessible to everyone.

What are some of the most popular programs at Camp Allen? Hidden gems?

The Adventure Summit is built with “Safe Roller” technology which allows participants to continually traverse ten various elements 40 feet off the ground without ever having to transfer belays. Of course, many of our campers would rather fish in one of our two lakes or play silly camp games with their cabin mates. The schedule is built to allow each camper to experience activities suited for their personality.

What is Camp Allen doing to commemorate your 100 years? Enhancements for this year?

Some of our plans to celebrate 100 years of camping have been tempered by the pandemic. However, we are still planning to host an outdoor gathering on May 1st to commemorate the occasion. More importantly, we are opening a 4th campsite this summer with a beautiful 7,000 square foot dining hall that all campers will enjoy for years to come.

How has COVID affected Camp Allen? What changes have been put in place to ensure the campers and staff’s safety?

Like everyone, the pandemic has affected Camp Allen in ways that we are still trying to quantify. Obviously, the financial circumstances are challenging but also the state of being disconnected. For an organization that cultivates community, social distancing is counter-intuitive and complex. I can say without hesitation, the senior leadership of Camp Allen has gone to great lengths to protect our people and property. We have learned a lot and will be better than we were before.

With a lot of hard work, Camp Allen was able to operate almost half of our weekly sessions last summer with a terrific safety record. None of our counselors, volunteers, or staff became infected with the coronavirus during camp or the week after. A few campers did bring the virus into our facility, but the spread was almost non-existent even among asymptomatic carriers. The policies used to help protect our community are outlined in detail on our website: (https://www.campallen.org/summer-camp-covid19-policies.htmlz)

In short, we wore masks when possible, shrank our community exposure into small circles, reworked the schedule to be COVID safe, and kept our facility disinfected with persistent sanitization for the duration of camp. It turned out to be a winning formula.

What are future plans for Camp Allen?

As an organization, we are reaching the long culmination of a significant capital campaign highlighted by the completion and opening of a fourth campsite. It is an impressive venue and something we are proud to share with our community. Plans are being created right now to expand schedules and create more connectivity. In 5 years, things will be better than they are right now; because we are constantly striving to improve. I think Camp Allen’s history is a healthy indicator of our future.

What would you like Houston parents to know?

Camp Allen is a safe place for your kids to grow and connect. In today’s world, sending our kids off to sleep away camp might seem scarier for parents than it does for our kids. However, In a digital age where personal connection appears to be a diminishing resource, the gifts of summer camp are becoming more critical. Creating opportunities for connection with the environment, others, and God feels like something our children need now more than ever. Camp Allen has a long, steady record of safety, and we are dedicated to helping our campers grow into better people.

Over the past 100 years, there has had to be so many wonderful stories. Is there one that stands out?

From a summer camp perspective, last summer we had a Mom stop her car after picking up her child and thank our President who was greeting them as they left. She explained that her family “REALLY needed this week more than we could ever know.”

We recently learned of a graduating valedictorian who shared in his speech that his most memorable time in his education was coming to the Discovery outdoor education program at Camp Allen some 6 years earlier.

While we have had many significant milestones in our 100-year history, such as hosting a summit that featured Desmond Tutu as the keynote speaker, confirmations of Bishops, hosting the Jerusalem Peace Builders summer camp for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim youth from the Middle East and US, nothing compares to each individual encounter that a guest or camper has that brings them closer to nature and God.

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