Alysia Downs wasn’t born into United Methodist camping, but she came pretty close.
Her mother, an ordained elder in the Oregon-Idaho Conference, was dean of camps.
“She started me in camping when I was very, very young — probably 2 years old or so,” Downs recalled. “Way back when you could take your kids as dean.”
After more than 30 years of working with children and families, Downs has been named as the new director of Camp Lakeside, near Scott City, Kansas.
“She’s just really seasoned with a lot of experience working with kids and nonprofits and education,” Sara Shaw, coordinator of camping ministry, said.
A counselor-in-training and then a counselor at summer camps in her youth, she worked as an assistant head cook and a head cook in camp kitchens after graduating from Southern Methodist University, primarily in the Oregon area and mostly at Suttle Lake in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.
She’s also lived and worked in California, Montana and Hawaii, most recently living on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“I’ve lived in a lot of wonderful and glorious places, mostly rural communities,” Downs said. “That was very much at the heart of what my mother’s work was.”
Seeing an opening on the American Camp Association website, she found what she was looking for in Camp Lakeside.
“I had been looking for years at how to best take all of my experience — what I have learned in my formal education as well as my practical experience — but continued to have some difficulty with what that meant, feeling like I was utilizing my skills and talents,” she said.
She sent her information just before the deadline, and her experience caught Shaw’s attention.
Shaw said what sealed the deal was the on-site interview at Lakeside.
“Even though she was our guest, she was treating us like we were her guest,” Shaw said.
Downs said she and Shaw were treating this year as a “reset” and a “rebirth” for Camp Lakeside, offering itself for more than youth campers.
“I not only imagine summer camp for our kids, but also being a hospitable, welcoming place for community groups and other organizations — families to come back or come for the first time, and to really make this place a year-round, welcoming facility that honors the needs of its guests in a very Christian-centered, Great Plains hospitable way,” she said.
Downs said she believes not enough people in southwest Kansas are aware of the camp.
“It’s such an amazing site that more people should have the opportunity to see it, to be a part of it in as a safe and healthy way as possible,” she said. “Hopefully over the next few years we can move into some of that from the past that was fun and exciting and offer spiritual growth.
“Traditions and a sense of camp culture are exciting, but (we also need to) see where we can grow and be better,” she added.
With the advice of the Lakeside site council, overnight camp will be offered throughout July, with separate weeks for various age groups.
“We have a variety, but we’ve got everybody in July. It’s a very compact schedule,” Downs said. “We’ve got some things that are familiar to folks, but maybe structured a little differently.”
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