Camp Promise thanks the Swenson Foundation
A Promise Kept
By: Beth Wiegand with Jeanette Windle
On Tuesday morning, an excited text pops up on BCM missionary Beth Wiegand’s cell-phone from Kaitlin, asking excitedly who will be at Promise Club that Friday. As she does each month, Beth responds that she doesn’t know for sure. But her answer doesn’t discourage Kaitlyn, whose enthusiasm to see her friends is contagious.
Promise Club is an outreach program of Camp Promise, a BCM summer program for campers with special needs hosted since 1990 at Big Sky Bible Camp (BSBC) in Bigfork, Montana. The monthly club was first conceived during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic when in-person summer camps were cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions. The first club for adults with disabilities was hosted at BSBC the fall of 2020, bringing together special needs campers once a month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for outdoor activities, fellowship over lunch, and fun projects. This was eventually expanded to a second club for ages seven to nineteen. Two years later, Promise Clubs are also meeting in two other Montana cities, Great Falls and Missoula, as well as a virtual club held through Zoom.
As with all BCM Bible Clubs, each monthly meeting includes a Bible lesson and singing along with fun games and activities. But one different component of Promise Club is doing a project that allows clubbers to encourage others and give back to their community. Projects have included creating treat boxes for residents of assisted-living facilities, writing notes of encouragements on prepackaged snacks to be delivered to special needs classrooms, making birthday posters for Montana Children’s Hospital patients, and helping prepare meals for the local warming shelter where the homeless and those without heat can take refuge during blizzards and freezing weather.
This summer, Camp Promise was able to return to a full roster of in-person camps. In fact, attendance was at an all-time high with 126 campers. These included over thirty brand-new campers traveling long distances from Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, Washington, and four other states along with local Montana campers. A return of in-person camps hasn’t diminished enthusiasm for Promise Club. On the contrary, clubbers love getting together each month to see friends they made during summer camp. Those who live too far away to participate in an in-person Promise Club enjoy seeing their friends virtually through the online club.
Camp Promise friends;
Over the past two years, Beth Wiegand and her team of volunteers have traveled long distances to spearhead each monthly Promise Club. But the ultimate goal is to develop enough local leadership and volunteers for each existing club and even start new ones. Other innovative programs for this fall include Camp Promise’s first weekend retreat for special needs campers aged twenty and older. Additional online clubs are also planned to disciple this summer’s bumper crop of campers throughout the year.
But these are just a beginning. An exciting building campaign is currently underway at BSBC that will permit expanding Camp Promise attendance to around three hundred campers each summer. The campaign has been titled A Promise Kept because it is the fulfillment of a long-term commitment by BSBC/Camp Promise to provide a full ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant facility where special needs campers can learn from the Bible while experiencing new activities, making friends, and providing caregivers with a much-needed break. This includes a new dining hall and commercial kitchen to supplement the current facility, already more than sixty years old and of limited capacity, as well as an ADA-accessible meeting hall and eight ADA-compliant duplex cabins.
Many generous donations from individuals, churches, and foundations committed to bringing God’s love to the special needs community made it possible to break ground on Phase One of the project, the new dining/kitchen/meeting facility, in May 2022. This includes a grant from the Gianforte Family Foundation for $50,000 and a grant from the Swenson Foundation for $2,750,000, for a total of almost three million of what will be an eight-million-dollar project by the time all phases are complete.
Once the main building and four of the eight ADA compliant cabins are complete, Camp Promise will be able to run all summer in conjunction with BSBC’s other camping programs. Also planned throughout the year are family retreats, conferences for the disability community, respite programs so family caregivers can recharge, and other fun, wholesome opportunities like Promise Club for those with disabilities to engage in Christian community.
Beth Wiegand has served as Camp Promise director since 2021 and as a volunteer since 2004. She shares, “This is an exciting time to be on the cusp of so much potential ministry to the disability community. Since COVID, our world has changed significantly. But the need for the gospel stays the same, and we are privileged to be a place where people with disabilities want to come to fellowship and learn more about Christ and His love for them.”
To follow the progress of this project or donate toward remaining phases, check out latest updates and needs at www.bigskypromisekept.org.
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