The Northern Light is written four times a year to share updates from program managers, photos, and peeks into life at HoneyRock.
An EPIC Year at HoneyRock
From the Executive Director, Rob Ribbe
2020 will go down as "The EPIC Year"...and it is not just because of COVID. I'm completing my 30th year at HoneyRock so what leads me to say this?
This was the year of incredible innovation, deep authentic community, of "BREAKTHROUGH," and of deep communion with the Lord..a frequent occurrence here but to a whole new level this year.
Incredible Innovation: We had to recreate an entire camp program from scratch in May and June when we decided to go for summer.
Deep Authentic Community: Ashley will describe this in her recap below but our summer staff and professional staff sacrificed much to make summer 2020 happen. It changed us and connected us in deep ways.
Breakthrough: This fall we welcomed 25 Vanguards, 20 Fellows, and 11 new Grad students. Charlie will talk about this below but we now have a school year community of 50 students. The 1996 vision of becoming a year-round campus of Wheaton College has become reality. Our dining hall has 80 people for lunch every day (split into student and staff cohorts as a part of our COVID-safe plan) from now until next May when summer starts. Last Saturday, Sept 19 the ski boat was running all afternoon as was the climbing tower and ceramics studio....and it was just our residential community. Classes are happening in our classrooms multiple days per week. HoneyRock is fully living into the title "Center for Leadership Development" as a year-round academic campus of Wheaton College.
Deep Communion with the Lord: During the months of March-April-May, when the world was panicking because of the pandemic and everything was being cancelled, the HoneyRock team went into a deep season of prayer. Rather than react, we waited. We took every Monday morning to pray and seek God's direction on our summer plans. What emerged was not only guidance on summer but also a deeper reliance and communion with the Lord as a team and as individuals. I personally will never be the same.
It is virtually impossible to share with you with any sort of clarity the amazing things God is doing at HoneyRock. Almost every Friday in our staff devotional time (8:00-8:20 am) we do "God Sightings" as a community. People tell stories of how they've seen God at work personally or in our community. Some Fridays this fall we've had to cut off the conversation at 8:30 because there has been so much to share.
Thanks to all you who entrust your children (young and older) to us. Thanks to all those who pray for us. Thanks to all of you who support us--especially to our COVID Onward donors who gave over $160,000 towards our COVID-19 debt. Your investment in HoneyRock is changing lives and preparing leaders to expand Christ's influence in the world. We are grateful to you.
For those who aren't currently a HoneyRock Partner, I ask you to consider becoming one and supporting HoneyRock by praying, promoting, and financially providing for HoneyRock. You can learn more about giving opportunities here.
- Continued discernment as we navigate this pandemic with our school year community and as we plan for summer 2021.
- Provision for all the staff we need in a year when recruitment (no college visits and minimal meetings on campus) is hindered.
- Clarity for the future...how can HoneyRock respond to present and post-COVID Wheaton College and the world.
- That HoneyRock would always be a place where people have an encounter with Jesus in an authentic Christian community.
- For the right person to find the Camper Registration Assistant role.
Thank you for being here and seeing what's happening at HoneyRock We're excited to share how God is working in and through this place.
Executive Director, HoneyRock
Celebrating a COVID-safe Summer at HoneyRock
By Ashley Kiley, Camp Programs Director
As I look back on summer 2020, one of the biggest words that jumps to my mind is grateful. Our summer staff team was incredible at adapting to the new policies and procedures—I’m thankful for their joy, heart, and perseverance. For our camper families—their honesty, trust, and partnership. For my fellow professional staff team—not one area of HoneyRock could continue with “business as usual” to make summer camp happen this year.
If you didn’t have a camper at HoneyRock this summer, you should skim through our COVID-safe practices. While we had to add additional policies and procedures, we kept our focus on keeping the pieces of HoneyRock that campers (and their parents) love, intact. Campers were still pursuing their activity awards, studying the Scriptures together, going on adventures through the woods, serving their fellow campers, and learning core leadership skills all along the way.
While this summer was unlike any we’ve seen before at HoneyRock, by God’s grace and provision, we were able to stay true to who we are and how we minister to youth and young adults. While there were definitely gritty moments—passionate conversations, navigating shifting rules and regulations (or lack thereof), a shortened training period with more content than ever to get through—we came through stronger than ever, providing transformational outdoor experiences to 460 campers and 100 summer staff in a time they were, and still are, desperately needed.
While this could have been one of the most divided summers—both physically but also mentally—it was the most unified and Gospel-centered team I’ve seen in my (almost) 10 years with HoneyRock.
While our summer staff team could have pushed back on not being allowed offsite for 7 weeks, it was one of the most rich experiences of Christian community most had ever lived in.
While this could have been a summer of burnout—the anxiety of the unknown, managing all of the “new”, balancing conflicting views, and more—our staff leaned into really doing life alongside one another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, there were opportunities for healing, restoration, and transformation.
I had the privilege of walking alongside many summer staffers this year, but one, in particular, stands out as they received a clarity of calling into ministry. Seeing the Lord move this person from a place of doubt and questioning of whether they could even lead campers into a place of quiet confidence about their future—it was awesome to watch God work in this way. They found a place to live more fully into their strengths and giftings. In a summer where everything felt up in the air, God gave that person clarity, peace, and direction. His presence was deeply felt this summer.
This summer was unlike any I’ve ever experienced before, yet at the same time, it felt very much like “HoneyRock”. We were outside more than ever. There was time spent in deep communion with the Lord. There were difficult moments, but in the end, we grew and it was good.
As the program team figured out how to make their programs COVID-safe, the facilities team was hard at work figuring out how to add safety features to support new requirements brought about by the pandemic. One of the coolest examples of this was our new handwashing stations at two entrances of the dining hall. Our team collaborated to come up with a design and jumped headfirst into a project that would tie all of our various skills together to create something to help keep our staff and campers safe. Al Scales set out to weld the frames with a rough blueprint while George Polcaster found the necessary fixtures and soap dispensers. With the frames built, a team of construction fellows installed dairy board to the backs for easy sanitization and Grandpa Dan began mounting the hardware to tie it all together. It was a beautiful picture of collaboration to overcome a new problem and the end result was fantastic. The best part? The handwashing stations are now a staple of our dining hall and will be around for years and years to come.
During the summer, our small but mighty site team has kept the grass mowed, trash empty, trails cleared, and wood stocked for the 30+ firepits around HoneyRock. The week after campers left, we jumped into two major site improvement projects that were completed by contractors.
When we installed the new basketball court, our team committed to keeping it in top condition. After seven summers of year-round service (basketball in the summer, broomball in the winter) it was time for it to be resurfaced and repainted. While we were repainting, we opted to add lines for Pickleball—a very fun and fast-growing sport. In addition to this, we purchased new rims and backboards that are more forgiving…it’s helped all of our games!
Our second major project was the regrading and rebuilding of the Loberg Parking lot—a long-awaited project. While this job is not a very flashy project, it’s a pretty big deal. Major earthwork was completed to change the slope of the parking lot to better drain water. If you’ve ever driven on HoneyRock’s gravel roads after a huge rainstorm, you know what I’m talking about. The work completed in late August has solved a major stormwater drainage issue.
We’re thankful for the excellent contractors and unique window of time we had this year to complete these projects!
This summer presented some unique challenges, but also opportunities. There was a different "flow" of when people were on and off site, where staff and students were living, and who made up our staff teams. My staff team, Alex Cole and John DiCicco, were mature, hardworking, and smart staff who could take on a project and absolutely run with it. They nailed it, especially when it came to Outhouses (I'll talk about that a bit later!).
We were able to take advantage of the time and refresh housing that is normally filled year-round: Loberg Apartments. Specifically, units 202 and 204. Both units got new coats of paints in all of the rooms. Carpets were cleaned, toilets replaced, and kitchens upgraded (see the photos below!). It was
Other projects included Lower Chalet demolition and finishing up our Outhouse project. During the school year while Alex was a Fellow, he completed three outhouses for various sites at HoneyRock with Vanguard staff. When John came on board, Alex and John teamed up on the outhouse for Black Bear, which gave John a chance to see the process and learn the various steps.
As summer was winding down, Alex needed to depart early for college, which meant John had to take the next outhouse they had started together to the finish line alone. The hand off of knowledge and skills proved seamless as John was able to complete and set the outhouse at Riverview and do a great job. The real proof that you’ve learned something comes when you’re able to pass it on. Witnessing Alex and John grow in their skills and abilities as they worked together and served the HoneyRock community made for a great (and productive!) summer.
Thank You, Nancy Robins
By John Welsh, Business Operations Director
As the season transition this fall, we’re similarly transitioning in saying goodbye to a cherished member of our team. It’s with grateful, yet saddened hearts that we announce the retirement of Nancy Robins. Nancy joined HoneyRock professional staff in 2014 by taking on the Camper Registration Assistant role.
Acting as the voice of HoneyRock, she has served countless parents over the past six years and contributed to the mission of HoneyRock in unmeasurable ways. If you, as a camper parent, called or e-mailed, you likely received a response from Nancy and came away feeling heard and well cared for. Camper surveys every year are overflowing with glowing comments of parents overjoyed with Nancy! Her warm, calming, and knowledgeable presence has been a hallmark in all her interactions with parents. Her impact hasn’t been limited to constituents. She has woven herself into the student and staff community fabric of this place. Imagine the warmth experienced over the phone being experienced in person over the years!
Now we celebrate her and send her off with blessings as she looks forward to spending more time with her children and grandchildren. Join us as we thank the Lord for Nancy’s contribution to this place and people and her love of God in all she does.
Welcome Vanguards, Fellows, and Grads!
By Charlie Goeke, School Year Program Director
Our fall is busier than ever with the arrival of 25 Vanguards (our largest cohort yet!), Fellows, and graduate students.
In late August we welcomed back graduate students, both first years and second years, after a well-deserved summer break. In early September Fellows joined the crew. And on September 12th, 25 Vanguards moved into their new home for the next eight months.
Over the summer, as Ashley Kiley and her Summer Programs Team planned for and then ran an incredible three weeks of training and four weeks of camp, the school year team was hard at work adapting our "normal" fall orientation for both the biggest student community we've ever had on-site and the unknowns that COVID-19 would bring.
We're excited to provide a place set apart—especially now—for these young adults to grow in their relationship with God and others, discern their callings, and experience the deeply restorative and transformational impact of God's creation.
The First Ride on a Young Horse: Summer 2020
Summer 2020. It’s hard to encompass such an experience in words. So perhaps I’ll just paint an image with words instead.
As someone who has devoted their life to the art of horsemanship, I see most situations through the lens of horses. This summer felt similar to the moments leading up to, during, and following putting a first ride on a young horse.
As the day dawns you know it’s time to take the leap of faith. The next step in training and equipping the horse is to get on and watch as all your groundwork blooms into all the potential that awaits as saddle time begins. Those next steps come with a fairly significant risk. Days months and years have led up to this moment. Endless hours of training and prep to get this horse ready for their first ride. Much could go wrong. Horse and rider could be injured. Questions fly through your mind of all the things you’ve done to ensure a positive moment found in the saddle. You dare yourself not to entertain all of the what if’s. You cover the moment in prayer.
As you lift your left foot and gently place it in the stirrup you know now you must let go of all the hindrances in your mind because the horse needs you to be its confidence and a constant reminder of patience, grace, and encouragement. You can feel your heart beating in your throat and remind yourself to breathe. Everything is about to be different than any day before this one. A transfer of trust is about to occur and with it comes it's almost a magical moment. You slowly swing your leg over the back of the saddle and softly sit down.
There are a couple of uncoordinated steps followed by some moments where you feel the horse processing through this odd new reality. You feel yourself relax a little and the horse mirrors your emotion and begins to loosen up and turn its confusion into a try. And suddenly you become a team capable of so much more than the two were capable of alone. There are sure to be bumps in the road in the coming days. These bumps will turn into transformative moments where again both horse and rider become better than the moment before.
The ride ends you step down out of the saddle. Exhausted and elated you put the horse away to rest and get ready for what comes next.
It’s hard to forget the moments that a first ride cover just as it will be hard to forget this summer and all that it held. God was faithful to bless the summer and the people in it. I’m exhausted and elated after this unprecedented summer. To God be all of the glory for the great things He has done and continues to do.
Winter Retreats for Summer Campers - Registration is Open!
We offer two special winter retreats for summer campers.
- Winterfest is for Residential Campers and their friends! If your camper has a friend they'd like to share HoneyRock with, this is a great opportunity to do so! It's a shorter time at HoneyRock than summer camp and provides a way to see what HoneyRock is all about. Explore Winterfest.
- ReGroup is for high school HoneyRockers whether you came to camp this summer or in '19. We ring in the New Year, HoneyRock style, and take advantage of all the winter activities HoneyRock has to offer. Explore ReGroup.
In mid-November, we'll announce our COVID-safe policies and procedures for these two retreats. Why the wait? As we did with this summer, we want to make sure our decisions align with the most recent research. We will offer full refunds to families whose situations change and cannot send their campers due to COVID-19.Register for ReGroup or Winterfest