Another Kent Fun Week

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

As our tradition for about the last 30 years, we spent some time up at Fair Havens Bible Conference. Well, they've been calling it Fair Havens Ministries for a while now, but what can I say: I'm an old timer. They tried to change the Tuck shop to "Connexion Cafe" but you still hear many people calling it the Tuck. Including my 5 year old. Who's been listening to me. (rock on, girl).

I do love Fair Havens. My parents and Ryan and I started camping there when I was about 4. I have grand memories too numerous to go into here. We would borrow my Grandparent Wettlaufers trailer (a Prowler, I believe) and what a thrill it was to sleep on the fold out bunk. Somewhere along the line my other grandparents secured a permanent site and made a summer home there with their trailer. There was a certain security in knowing that Grandma and Papa were always there, at #511.

Then in 1990 I worked my first summer there, in the children's ministry. It was called Children's Chapel, as it had been for decades and we serviced about 80-100 kids aged 2-10 each week for a 3 hour morning and another hour and a half at night. We did songs, crafts, games: all the usual kid VBS/Sunday School type stuff. I did this for 6 summers. The last 3 I was the coordinator of the program. The last summer or two we started to see changes. Some parents were not happy that their 2 year olds were in the same group as the 10 year olds (we'd start the morning together before splitting into age appropriate classes and some evening activities (movie night) had all the kids together). So the segregation began. This splintering has continued so that now, there is a 'class' for babies, another for 2 and 3 year olds, another for 4 and 5 year olds, another group for grades 1-3 and then I'm not sure what happens after that. My kids aren't old enough yet.

To my knowledge and observation, it doesn't appear the children do anything terribly different than we did 15 years ago. They still sing. (the same songs. I know, because I hear them and I was the one who led the singing those 6 summers). They still do crafts. (The girls brought a couple things home from their week. Jairus didn't bring anything home I don't think). They still have 'pool' morning, although now for the girls' class, it was 'water' morning which didn't happen due to inclement weather. Jairus' class went to the splash pad and may have gone in the pool.
They still sing in big chapel on Friday night and say their memory verse. Jairus declined to participate. :-( They still have some form of dress-up night (still expecting parents to pull costumes out of their meager camping supplies) and pajama night. They still traipse all over the camp finding interesting spots to play their games and explore. They still call all the leaders Miss or Mr. [first name].
This generation of Children's Chapel workers don't even have to go an hour and a half or more at night. Adult chapel has been truncated recently and if it runs for an hour, that's generous. Another difference is the need to tag each kid and outfit each parent with a corresponding bracelet. Other than would seem that no one's done any huge reinventing of the wheel.

I'm not complaining about this. I enjoyed attending Children's Chapel. I enjoyed teaching Children's Chapel. If someone along the line decided that what we were all doing was vastly inferior and instituted an overhaul, I'm not sure how I'd feel about that. The point of my jaunt down memory lane has to do with...well, the memories.

James was of course a big part of all this. I met him my first summer there. We started dating and did the long distance thing for the following year. We broke up the next summer upon returning to FH and spent the next two years apart. The summer of 1994 saw us get back together again, summer of 1995 we were engaged---at Fair Havens, and summer of 1996 we were married---at Fair Havens. Yup, that's right, out on the path in front of ol' Irwin Chapel.

Once James and I got married, that spelled the end of my working summers at FH. Naturally. We've made a point however, of getting up there at least once a summer, if even just for a long weekend. I recall we tried actual tent camping (I believe we gave up midweek and moved into my grandparents trailer that my aunt and uncle had just finished with).

Not long after we got married, my parents were able to buy their first trailer. For a few years they hauled it back and forth, or might have left it in storage there over the winter. Then my grandparents decided to pass their permanent site on, so my parents were the excited recipients. Now my kids can always remember their Nana and Papa at #511. Our habit the last 2-3 years is for me to bring up the kids for a week and James to join us on the weekend. To take a whole week of vacation and join my parents (and up to 4 siblings) in their trailer is...a bit crowded.

So with this short history of my affiliation with Fair Havens in mind, perhaps now I can explain why I find myself becoming increasingly annoyed with the place.

I was talking about it some with another staff alumnus whom I usually run into every year. Her parents also have a permanent site not far from my parents. She's a great friend whom I cherish and I feel I can talk to concerning just about anything. Her and I both gave many summers of our teenage lives to Fair Havens for a fairly pathetic financial remuneration. I don't think that was a huge deal to me at the time, although I do remember waiting and hoping to be old enough to join their college student program, so that I could work there during the summers in between years at university. I was pretty disappointed when they terminated that program before I could get to it.
Now as an adult with a better handle on the cost of wages, living and quality employees, it's pretty astounding to me how much they got away with paying us. I've worked it out, remembering how much I brought home at the end of the summer and how many hours I worked during the weeks there....yep, it was pretty 'poverty' as my sister would say.


And even if my memory is completely wrong, and I brought home twice as much....that's still only $3.00 an hour. Sure, they provided room and board. Still highway robbery I think. And consider the years I was coordinating. I spent untold hours planning and preparing for the summer....and I don't remember getting a significant amount more.

Again, I'm not complaining about that, particularly. When it seems to burn the most however, is when I return there with my family and can barely afford to stay with my parents.
Fair Havens doesn't have any kind of alumni recognition. That's probably not very common among conference/camping grounds anyway, but I just feel like there should be something. Like I've explained, I kept up my connection with FH because I love it. The place. Some of the people.
But when I show up to pay for the programs my children will attend while we're there, I can't help but shake my head to think I'm now paying no small amount for my kids to do exactly what I used to teach....and never charged a penny for. That's right, 15 years ago, there were no "program fees".
It didn't help that the woman registering me at the counter was an old time staffer whom I clearly remember from my time working there, and I'm willing to bet she was working there when I was a lowly camper too. She asks my name, which, ok, I probably couldn't have remembered her name either, but the kicker was when she couldn't find me in the computer and asks "Have you been here before?". Sigh.
When I found out how much it was going to be costing me, I seriously considered saying that, ok, I wouldn't be sending them to their programs. I actually stood there thinking about how I was going to tell the kids they weren't going to 'Kinder Kids' and 'The Rock'. I began a short list in my head of the stuff I could do with them instead, with an underlying current of disappointment running through the whole mess that I wouldn't be able to work on the scrapbooking I brought up.
But that wasn't an option. When she included Afton, I quickly told her that I wouldn't be sending Afton to the nursery, thinking I wouldn't have to pay the program fee for her. After all, she wouldn't be getting any program. But no....the fee is to cover "her use of the grounds". Like the pool and....the ground she walks on. "For a 14 month old?" I said incredulously. They were going to charge me $50 so Afton could get her feet wet in the pool?


So on top of my wounded pride that this lady had to ask if I'd ever BEEN there before, the exorbitant fee for my kids to do precisely what's been happening there for at least 30 years at no cost, now my one year old had to pay for me to push her in a stroller around the campgrounds.

Is it too much to ask for a little recognition? A small token of gratitude for sacrifices made to the growth and prosperity of Fair Havens Ministries? Apparently not.

Now, as I'm a person to tries to look at things from the other side's perspective, I can understand that since the new director came on board a few years ago, he's put in place huge changes in order to improve the place. And improvements have happened. The Tuck shop and offices have been completely redone since I was a staffer. The playground is much larger, with new play apparatuses. The children's program now has two large portable classrooms to extend their classes into, with accompanying playlot. There's a beautiful new splashpad (as you can see). There's a more impressive line-up of special musical guests and events like the showing of the "Fireproof" movie. Every Friday night there's fireworks (as you can see) and every Saturday night they hold a BBQ for all the campers. I've heard that financially, Fair Havens is doing much better, and all due to this new director.

But this year, as I paid my left arm for my kids to attend one week of program and for me and Afton on the grounds, I started considering that sometime soon, arrangements will likely have to change. As my kids get bigger, they won't be able to share the table that turns into a bed, and we will quite simply run out of room. We'll either have to start coming up during a week when my family is not there (no fun), or we're going to have to start making our own arrangements (like....grown-ups would, I guess). We'd have to get our own site...and get our own tent or tent trailer or trailer or something. But quite honestly, since we've always been on the receiving end of the perks of my parents' season site, and not had to pay very much at all for our times at Fair Havens, the costs to do such a thing seem pretty outrageous. And that just burns me. That both James and I once gave so much of our time and energy to a place that now we can't even afford to bring our family to. Yes, I know they are a business. Yes, I know they need to make money to make the place better, to bring up the standard and be able to compete with the likes of MBC.

But really, is that their goal? What is their goal? It would be nice to know. Because I think it should be to provide a beautiful, restful place where families can come and recharge, spend time with friends and hear some good bible teaching, trusting that their children are receiving the same---at a price the average family can afford.

Perhaps Fair Havens needs to take a look at what the average family is pulling in.


J9 said...

Boy, good ol' Fair Havens certainly has changed since we were on staff! I have such great memories of the 2 years I worked up there, I think the changes started shortly after I left, when the Grills' left. I don't think I've been up there since I got married, so I probably wouldn't recognize it if I went up....and probably couldn't afford it anyway! Every once in a while, I pull out the old photos and take a walk down memory lane....

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