Reaffirming Adventure Unlimited’s Mission and Community Standards
The Board of Trustees of Adventure Unlimited (the “Board”) feel so privileged to serve Adventure Unlimited. We have been praying with the organization’s 2022 metaphysical theme: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” – Phil 2:2 and have been heartened to know that when we are all focused on serving God, we are of one accord, of one mind.
The A/U Ranches will soon conclude their 67th year of operations. In 2022, we will have hosted an estimated 730 individuals participating in camp programs. This attendance is roughly what we drew through our programs in 2019, prior to the COVID pandemic, and up about 10% from where we were in 2016 and 2017.1
These past three years have had their share of challenges caused largely by the COVID pandemic and substantially increased state and federal regulations, which in turn have provided an opportunity for us to learn and get better at what we do. One way we improve is by listening to comments from our participants, their parents, donors, staff, former trustees and alumni. The Board wants all stakeholders to know how much we appreciate and seriously consider the comments we receive.
To that end, the Board has received some helpful feedback and concerns recently, mostly related to the operation of the A/U Ranches. We have addressed these concerns one-on-one with the source, when possible, and it has helped shape some changes in our practices. As there are some common themes in this feedback and our responses, we thought it might be helpful to briefly summarize the most common issues and respond to them.
Before we address any of this feedback, we want to acknowledge that we understand the concerns identified were made in the spirit of Love. We know all of us share a love for this institution and all that it stands for, and we are continuously working toward the Andrews’ stated mission of Opening Windows to God.2
The four questions that summarize the feedback most completely are listed below, together with our response and a bit of fruitage from this year’s participants we thought most appropriately related to the issue:
1. Has Adventure Unlimited strayed from the vision of its founders?
We take very seriously the privilege of supporting an organization dedicated to Opening Windows to God. It is the core of everything we do. One of the beauties of that mission is that it has remained current with the needs of the times and our stakeholders. Adventure Unlimited is much more than the summer camp for boys it was in the 1950s. We look to the insight and resolve that Cap and Marianne Andrews displayed when founding our organization. Over time the adaptability of their vision included: expanding into a camp to serve girls; racial integration of the staff and campers; expanding into an organization beyond the confines of the camps through chapters, and later the expansion of DiscoveryBound (formerly the A/U Chapter program) to include multiple programs; not discriminating based on sexual preference; providing vegetarian options; expanding family and adult programming such as Bible Camp, Christmas Camp and Mini Camp; and not discriminating against individuals on the gender spectrum, whether staff or participants.
It is impossible to fully know what Cap and Marianne would think of any of these changes. We do know that Cap’s second wife, Janie Andrews, who was a long-time worker for Adventure Unlimited, was among the most adamant supporters of not discriminating on the basis of sexual preference. She claimed it was as easy as the decision not to discriminate on the basis of race. Notably, both of these decisions were opposed at the time they were made, on the familiar basis of concern for the safety of children and of not being true to Adventure Unlimited’s mission.
We feel with each of the changes or expansions of Adventure Unlimited’s business, the proof is there that the organization continues to dedicate itself to Opening Windows to God and loving everyone who comes through our gates or participates in our programs.
2. How can Adventure Unlimited better present its policies on inclusion to all stakeholders – especially parents and donors? Has this policy harmed our ability to achieve our mission?
One area that seems to be a focal point for some of the concerns shared with the Board is gender and gender identity. To be clear, our policy has always been to love everybody who wishes to participate, to support all of their demonstrations in an atmosphere of Love, but not to tell people what needs healing. With regard to gender, our specific practice is that: (i) campers are housed according to birth gender; (ii) campers and staff may advise us of their preferred name and pronoun; and (iii) any staff who don’t wish to use a particular pronoun are encouraged to use the staff or camper’s name.
People can disagree on some of the issues presented by this practice. In many cases we have no disagreement at all with the opinions and concerns expressed to the Board. In most of the feedback, the real issue we perceive is a very important question: does Adventure Unlimited continue to fulfill its mission of Opening Windows to God for its participants and staff? The clear answer to this question is that our mission has not changed. You can see this in many ways, including our staff-developed code of conduct (listed below) and in the testimonials from 2022 participants which we will share throughout this response. We are still excited to be pursuing this mission.
Our high expectations for the atmosphere at camp, in DiscoveryBound programs and the conduct of our staff is found on our website. The staff developed and is committed to enforcing this high standard. As has always been the case, some staff need to be reminded, managed and occasionally terminated if they don’t live up to these standards. Managing young adults is tough work, but we don’t give up, just like Cap didn’t give up when he had to fire half of his staff one summer in the 1950s for violating an employment agreement. The list below is a balance of the do’s and don’ts of working for Adventure Unlimited.
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30,31
At Adventure Unlimited, we strive to create a loving and inclusive healing atmosphere, grounded in Christian Science principles, that is respectful of each individual. It is each community member’s responsibility to strive for elevated thought, speech and action while upholding and supporting others through the expression of divine Love.
Code of Conduct
As an organization that serves the broader Christian Science community, Adventure Unlimited (inclusive of the A/U Ranches and DiscoveryBound) expects its community members to strive to follow a code of conduct that supports an environment focused on spiritual growth and healing. The following outlines a code of conduct to observe during a program:
- I will strive to be spiritually centered.
- I will strive to support and uphold others in the spirit of the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).
- I will be free from the use or possession of tobacco, vape pens, marijuana, alcohol and illegal drugs.
- I will refrain from sharing explicit pictures, materials and stories, as well as excessive public displays of affection and sexual activity outside of marriage.
- I will not use offensive language.
- I will not intimidate, harass or foster an unsafe environment through any physical, sexual, psychological or verbal harassment or abuse.
- I will not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, age, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, political opinion, economic status, social group or ethnic origin.
I understand, if I should violate the trust inherent in this Code of Conduct, I will be held accountable for my choices and actions.
Enforcing and encouraging this standard leads to fruitage like this:
Now, to address a few more specific issues in this area:
- How does inclusion of those on the Gender Spectrum impact our ability to achieve our mission?
The question isn’t whether we should love and try to serve everyone. We all know we should, as long as that inclusion does not undermine the mission of the organization. The concerns about inclusion seem to state primarily that we have diminished the authenticity of our offering by expanding our inclusiveness.
Our response is that we are focused on the same mutual goal. We just may be addressing it in different ways than you think. Instead of trying to improve spirituality by excluding some, we are focused on expanding that experience to include everyone. God’s Love is not limited.
Pre-dating the concerns expressed to the Board, we were concerned during and after the summer of 2021 that there was a decrease in the spiritual focus of our seasonal staff. We made substantive changes to our interview process, and also to our staff orientation, based on the importance of a commitment to Christian Science. For the first time in recent memory, we had a material improvement in the scores of counselors rating whether their camp experience had strengthened their relationship to God (from 3.91/5 to 4.23/5). The bottom line is, we feel the achievement of the mission is possible under our inclusive practices and have seen very positive momentum towards that end.
- Is the usage of alternative pronouns, as well as the hiring of staff who are on the gender spectrum or are homosexual, or even those who are percieved to be aligned with a “woke” agenda consistent with Adventure Unlimited’s mission?
Our policies regarding non-discrimination have not changed in recent years, and we have no political agenda whatsoever. We love all who come through the gate and who are focused on deepening their relationship to God. And we remain committed to providing experiences conducive to healing, with a community atmosphere and code of conduct that reflect this commitment, as referenced above.
In serving individuals on a gender spectrum or who are homosexual there may be concern that it is distracting us from our mission, but there is little evidence that inclusive hiring or participation over the years has materially impacted the spiritual elements of our programs (and to be clear, this is something we have always been alert to and monitored). While we are constantly learning how best to be welcoming to all, we constantly strive to learn and adjust in order to better serve. A good example of this can be seen from changes made from 2021 to 2022, as we worked to be softer and more loving in correction. We felt that some staff defending pronoun usage were too strident, and we addressed this issue in both hiring and in training, with a result of substantially less friction and more grace. We also have emphasized that if a staff member does not feel comfortable using the pronoun favored by a camper or staff member, it is perfectly appropriate to use the person’s name.
In addition, one of the learning lessons of the past year has been to be more alert in our use of labels or language describing our actions. We recognize that terms like DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion) can be polarizing, by misleading people into thinking something was going on based upon their preconceived notions of the term. While we will always take steps to ensure our programs, actions and language are inclusive of all, we don’t want to alienate any of our stakeholders. Our goal is to not take a side in a culture debate, but to rise above, and be solely aligned with God. We think we can all agree that when we are focused on God, human opinions fall away. Here is what we are committed to: loving everyone who participates in our programs, not telling people what healings they need to have, providing everyone with more privacy in cabins, calling people by the names they are comfortable with, and making sure there is no bullying or discussions of inappropriate topics at camp.
- Parents, not counselors, should be teaching kids about transgender and homosexual matters.
Parents should have the opportunity to take the lead in discussions with their children on these topics, which is why we sent a letter describing how we were being inclusive to parents of incoming campers last year, so that they would have a chance to discuss the matter before camp. We are not in the business of “teaching” about any of these subjects, but are striving to encourage people to treat each other respectfully, regardless of gender or sexual preference. While most campers and counselors are familiar with a world that includes people on a gender spectrum, it is difficult to have a discussion of how to be courteous to people in this category without some brief discussion of that subject. Please know, there is no place for discussions of sex or sexual preference at camp. These items are reflected in our employment policies and counselors have been instructed, reprimanded or, in some cases, terminated for violating this policy.
We also get asked why we didn’t send an email to donors or alumni like we did to parents. We do not view our decision to admit campers on a gender spectrum or to not discriminate in employment as a change of policy, and as such we didn’t feel we needed to send out a broad announcement of a change, as it may be perceived as advocacy or an agenda. We listed our policies on our website and sent a special notice to parents in case they wanted to have a private pre-camp discussion.
- The A/U Ranches are the only Christian Science camp with inclusion policies for staff and campers on a gender spectrum.
Several CS camps have a similar inclusion stance and others are wrestling with how best to include all, as this is a topic facing many organizations world-wide. We are striving to find the most loving way to serve everyone who can add to our community, including those who may differ from our traditional participants. It doesn’t seem Christian to do otherwise, but we know some people disagree with this approach. We believe we receive enormous benefit from hiring the best people we interview for staff positions. Some of these people have been on the gender spectrum, but they were not hired because of that; they were hired because we thought they were the best candidates for the positions they were seeking. Please note our actions are based on prayer alone and not on other organizations’ stance.
- Gender Dysphoria is a disease, and diseased people should not be counselors or allowed at camp.
In our hiring practices, we pursue individuals who represent and demonstrate a commitment to Christian Science, love camp and are fit to be outstanding counselors. As stated previously, we do not begin to outline what healings individuals need to have.
It is our understanding that gender dysphoria is a clinical term only professionals use to describe a condition where a person faces significant unmanageability in their lives. As our counselors demonstrate a high degree of functionality it seems unlikely they would meet this definition. Also common in the news media is the idea that transgender is synonymous or associated with grooming, indoctrination, or sexual misconduct, which is untrue. Mrs. Eddy was not subtle about her belief that gender is a material construct.
3. How can Adventure Unlimited strengthen recruitment and training of both permanent and seasonal staff? How can we make the staff experience better?
Staff training is critical, and it is our belief and experience that many issues we deal with in operating the camps can be reduced or eliminated through better training. Towards that end, we are excited that one of the new co-directors hired to run the A/U Ranches has a masters degree in education and has a career coaching and teaching teachers. The new co-directors look forward to further improving the counselor training program which will improve the experience of campers and the effectiveness of our staff to achieve our mission.
But we don’t just need to improve our training, we also focus on improving our hiring. One example is that after the summer of 2021 we were concerned there was a decrease in the spiritual focus of our staff. We made substantive changes to our interview process, and also to our staff orientation, based on the importance of a commitment to Christian Science. As a result, we had a material improvement in the scores of counselors rating whether their camp experience had strengthened their relationship to God (from 3.91/5 to 4.23/5). We feel this improvement in the achievement of the mission helps demonstrate that inclusive practices have not had the impact some of our feedback was concerned about.
We were very sorry to hear some had a negative experience with a counselor or that a staff member was treated harshly by their supervisor. We strive to train our staff and managers to be respectful and compassionate in all their dealings, and are always looking for ways to improve our interactions. This is so important to us that we survey all our participants and staff as to whether they feel loved and valued by their interactions with us. When we miss the mark, we want to know to make it right and ensure our future interactions live up to our high expectations. One example of this is seeing our score from counselors this summer on how they felt loved and valued this summer. It was 4.41/5 up from 4.16/5 last summer.
As far as standards go, you can see by our code of conduct (listed above) how we hold staff accountable. Since the beginning of camp, finding the right balance of growth spiritward and good decision making is the goal. As we all know our job is to help staff be accountable to their best selves and on occasion they fall short. We will admit, we have decided not to be detectives to investigate the social media accounts of counselors for periods outside of their employment. In no case do we feel it is appropriate to discuss out-of-season non-wholesome behavior with others while at camp. We don’t always fire people for such offenses, but there is a consequence for such behavior and it can impact future employment opportunities. It should be abundantly clear, there is no place for discussions of sex or sexual preference at camp. These items are reflected in our employment policies and counselors have been counseled, reprimanded or, in some cases, terminated for violating this policy.
In regards to cell phone usage we all know youth and their cell phones do not part easily. Early on in training the staff give up their phones for 48 hours (communicated well ahead of time) to help staff connect and develop their interpersonal resources. We strive to limit cell phone usage when counselors are training or supposed to be in a program or cabin with campers, and make clear that phones are only used for business purposes. The bottom line is, counselors need to be fully present when with kids, just as we ask all campers to give up their cell phones for the session. Phones can simply be too much of a distraction from the rich opportunities and potential for camaraderie and spiritual growth.
Finally, we have been able to attract some wonderful additions to our team in the past year. More will be shared about some key hires in the weeks to come. But rest assured, we have been blessed by some amazing new people to join our team from development to finance and from the camps to our administration. Adventure Unlimited continues to attract excellent talent to continue our pursuit of our mission.
4. Based in part on lessons learned during COVID, how can Adventure Unlimited best communicate to all stakeholders policies for accommodating increased state and federal regulations that cover all aspects of operating the A/U Ranches from participants, to food service, to animals, to land management and more?
There is no doubt that the camp business is highly regulated and every year it gets more complex. You might not know that the A/U Ranches have to obtain more than ten state and local permits every year to operate. We face regular inspection by regulatory agencies to keep operating. Masks during COVID were not the least of it. Government regulation is a real burden in this area, no matter how well intended; nonetheless, we follow the appropriate regulations to be in compliance with our governing licenses. Far from aggressively testing or masking campers, we did the bare minimum required to be operational, but the maximum of spiritual preparation. We provide a broad range of programs to a broad range of participants. We feel all are best served by us continuing to participate in such organizations designed to set standards in this area, like the American Camping Association.
We have tried to respond to many of the concerns that were presented to the Board in the past few years. As we mentioned, some concerns were individual or private in nature and we followed-up with those individuals. We hope it is clear that we are forever striving to fulfill the mission of Adventure Unlimited: Opening Windows to God, and to embrace all those seeking to understand a life leading spiritward.
We, as a Board, feel so privileged to serve Adventure Unlimited as Trustees and to honor our commitment of stewardship. Thank you again for your love and support. As we move forward we warmly invite you to pray with us on the organization’s 2022 metaphysical theme. “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” – Phil 2:2
The Board of Trustees of Adventure Unlimited
1 This number includes those registered for Christmas Camp and Bible Camp to be held later this year. DiscoveryBound continues to expand its regional and national programming with over 3,800 participants projected by the end of this year. In addition to this traditional programming, 100 Elk will provide over 1,800 participants outdoor education programming in our off season. Both of which are also up about 7-10% from 2016 and 2017.
2 From John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra: “Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.”
Youth Camp at the A/U Ranches
Our experiences change lives. At the A/U Ranches you’ll find a Christian Science atmosphere with staff dedicated to helping you see the role God plays in your life. Each program and activity is designed to help you break through limitations, reach your goals, and see God in action.