"You're Not Alone Out There In the Woods"
Cody Hanken, Camp Istrouma, Louisiana

Camp has been part of Cody’s life since he first came to Camp Istrouma as an 8-year-old camper. As a young adult, he had plans to become a teacher when the opportunity came to return to Istrouma as the Program Director. After a series of staffing changes and the untimely passing of the Camp Director and Cody’s mentor, he found himself accepting the Director’s role without much preparation. Cody knew there were gaps in his knowledge about camp leadership, but with so much to do, who had time for training? 

A board member had connected with the UMCRM Association during the leadership transition, learning about all the professional development opportunities the Association offered, including the Immersion Experience. With the board’s encouragement and three weeks into his new job, Cody somewhat reluctantly showed up in Colorado for the January 2020 UMCRM Immersion. He didn’t know a soul, but fellow students embraced him into the community. “It opened up my eyes,” Cody recalls. Istrouma was the only camp he’d ever known. He didn’t yet have a close network of fellow camp leaders or a support system to turn to during the ups and downs of ministry. 

Through the week of Immersion, Cody discovered friends who understood what it was like to be a new Director. He felt a sense of belonging to the UMCRM community. He realized that even though there were a million tasks still waiting for him back at camp, taking a week to invest in his own growth and leadership skills would yield great long-term rewards. Among many insights from the Immersion Experience, Cody realized the importance of Creation Care in the values of United Methodist Camping ministry, and returned to Istrouma ready to implement some environmentally-conscious changes. Most valuable, though, were the classmates who now are a core of friends that talk and text regularly, supporting each other as fellow UMCRM ministry leaders. Now Cody looks forward to attending UMCRM National Gathering, both to catch up in person and to keep learning new insights that help him continue to grow as a Director. These days he’s paying it forward by encouraging his staff and other camp leaders to attend UMCRM training opportunities. “You’re not alone out there in the woods,” he says.