Military Freethinkers Sponsor Camp Quest Camper
When summer time comes around, most families start planning for vacations and camps to fill their kids’ summer breaks. For some families, however, finding a welcoming summer camp can be a challenge, especially if they happen to be one of the growing numbers of American families that don’t identify with religion. Among secular families that serve in the military, it can be especially difficult for children to stay connected with friends and others who share their worldviews.
Camp Quest, founded in Kentucky in 1996, is a youth development agency and network of secular summer camps for children of all backgrounds. Camp Quest provides an educational adventure shaped by fun, friends, and freethought, and featuring science, natural wonder, and humanist values. Camp Quest includes 12 affiliate programs across the US, and has served over 8800 campers since its founding. Children that come from non-religious and interfaith families find Camp Quest to be a welcome respite, especially if they face discrimination or bullying at school for not following religious norms.
In March, Camp Quest announced a partnership with the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF) to offer a full campership to a child of a military member or veteran. MAAF supports atheists in foxholes, their families, and veterans. The MAAF campership program helps to support veterans and strengthen the secular community through the invaluable family services Camp Quest provides.
10 year old Zoe Williamson of Brentwood, California received the campership and, thanks to MAAF, will attend Camp Quest West in Northern California at the end of this month. Zoe can’t wait to get to camp: “I’m looking forward to spending the week with everyone at camp, and making new friends in California. I’m really excited about doing new things and going on adventures, like canoeing on the water, and shooting the arrows at archery.”
Zoe’s parents, Matthew and Brooke, have a combined 25 years of active duty service with the US Coast Guard. They relocated from Texas to California last year. Matthew had been a volunteer with Camp Quest Texas and wanted his daughter to have a chance to attend camp: “I volunteered at Camp Quest Texas for 3 years before my kids were old enough to attend,” Matthew shared. “We were transferred out of Texas to California before they could attend there...I always loved camp as a kid, but hated the religious part. When I heard of Camp Quest, I knew I wanted to help out. I knew I wanted my kids to go there. My oldest is 10 and hasn’t had a chance to go to camp yet. With our transfer in the middle of summer last year, we couldn’t let her go.”
Ensuring that their children have an indoctrination-free summer camp experience is a priority for the Williamsons. Matthew stated, “My wife, a life-long atheist, and I quickly decided to let our kids experience everything, raise them secular, and make up their own minds. Camp Quest is a place that we can all ask questions, explore the what-ifs and not be judged or made to feel on the outside.”
Organizations like Camp Quest and MAAF provide supportive, year-round opportunities for families and their children to connect with fellow freethinkers. For Matthew and his family, community is essential: “All secular families lack support that religious organizations provide — community outside of work. Military families have a tendency to stay within a small circle, usually other military families. Within that small circle is an even smaller circle of families that are secular. So the number of people who understand our families’ difficulties and accept us and our kids as equals, even though we don’t go to church and we don’t believe in a god, is often very small.”
This year, Camp Quest has seen an unprecedented demand for their camp programs. “Some of our camps’ registrations fill up in 30 minutes to a few hours,” said Kim Newton, Camp Quest’s Executive Director, who leads the network’s National Support Center located in Staunton, Virginia. “In order to continue to serve more children, and especially those kids whose parents are veterans, we need much more support from donors and more people willing to volunteer at camp.” Camp Quest is looking to expand its day camp offerings in the coming year. Current residential camps serve children aged 8-17. “Building lifelong communities of support for Camp Quest campers is a key priority, and we have to start by making sure that our programs are accessible,” Newton shared. “We’re very grateful to the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers for supporting us. These kids deserve to have a fantastic summer.”