By Pat Shea
Although the lazy days of summer may just be a memory, families and retreat groups in Central New York still have a place where they can play, pray and fellowship together; Camp Hickory Hill in Varysburg, New York.
“We’re just as busy in the fall and in the winter as we are in the summer,” stated the camp’s Executive Director, Sam Richbart, 58, in a recent interview. “It’s just a different kind of busy.”
Established in 1955 by Christian Service Brigade Ministries, Camp Hickory Hill, a Christian not-for-profit camp, is now known for its memorable fall and winter programs as much as it’s vibrant summer camp program.
A member of the Christian Camp & Conference Association as well as Christian Service Brigade Ministries, Camp Hickory Hill is not directly affiliated with any specific church, but its mission aligns with many evangelistic churches in the area.
The camp’s primary goal is to provide a place that allows people to grow in their relationship with God and each other, whether it’s through time spent at a family event, summer camp or a retreat. As people grow closer to God through Christian discipleship, it’s the desire of the camp’s leadership team that these people will become Christian leaders in their homes and communities, and in turn, disciple others to become leaders. To help attain this goal, the camp offers a leadership development program that encourages young people to go out into the world and live godly lives as leaders.
Sam Richbart, who attended the camp from age 10 through age 16, is a perfect example of how this leadership program has a lasting effect.
“When I was 16, I was standing under the stars after a campfire program and I looked up and said, ‘Wherever you want to lead me, Lord, I will follow.’ Little did I know that God wanted me to stay right where I was,” laughed Richbart.
Richbart later became Camp Hickory Hill’s summer director in 1986. In 1992, Richbart also served as the Regional Director for Christian Service Brigade until 2008, when he became the Executive Director for Camp Hickory Hill.
“Every year I am excited to watch new leaders being developed,” stated Richbart. “We put a lot of energy into [the leadership program] and it’s amazing to see them go off and serve the Lord in so many ways.”
Focus on the Family
Camp Hickory Hill will kick off its fall and winter programs with a popular all-day event, Family Frenzy, which will be held on September 21, 2019. This event is hosted twice a year, once in the spring and then again in the fall, and families can spend six hours enjoying a range of activities from canoeing, fishing, archery, gym games and hikes to rope challenges, a bounce house, zip lining and more.
“At Family Frenzy we generally get around 160 people participating,” stated Richbart. “The event runs from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm and we host a nice picnic style lunch that is included in the price of the ticket.”
The cost is $10 per person for advanced registration, and $13 for walk-ins on the day of the event. Children under 3 are admitted free.
“It’s a great way for families to enjoy a day at camp without the worry of an overnight stay,” explained Richbart.
Although the camp is Christian based, the Family Frenzy event does not offer bible teaching or formalized prayer as it does with some of its other camp events.
“We do pray before the meal and share Christ whenever the opportunity presents itself during the day, but this event is meant to focus more on simple and uncomplicated family fun,” explained Richbart.
Coming in October, the camp will host a Mother-Daughter retreat that begins at with a welcome campfire on Friday, October 4th at 7:30 pm. Mothers can bring more than one daughter to the event which will continue until 3:00 pm on Saturday, October 5th. All mothers and their daughters (ages 6 and up) registered for the entire event will stay in a heated cabin overnight as a group. Those not wishing to stay can join in the Saturday events which include a variety of activities and competitions, as well as worship time, speakers and bible teaching. The event offers early bird pricing of $70 per Mother-Daughter pair (or a maximum of $100 per family if more than one daughter attends) for the entire event and include meals and snacks, or $55 per Mother-Daughter pair (or a maximum of $75 per family if more than one daughter attends) for just the Saturday event.
Fathers and sons will get their chance to spend time together at two upcoming retreat weekends. The first Father-Son retreat begins Friday evening, October 11th at 7:00 pm and runs until 3:00 pm on Saturday October 12th. Camp Hickory Hill offers the same early bird pricing and single day pricing as the Mother-Daughter retreats, and this event also includes meals and snacks.
If October is too soon to contemplate, Dads have another opportunity to get away with their sons in the New Year. To kick off 2020, the camp will host a Father-Son retreat on January 24th through January 25th, 2020. Both the October retreat and the January retreat include a variety of activities and competitions, heated cabins and time for worship together and bible teaching. Check the camp’s website for information on pricing.
Dads will also get the unique opportunity to bond with their daughters at the camp’s annual Father-Daughter retreat that will be held some time in February.
“This is a pretty cool event,” explains Richbart. “It’s become really popular. We have speakers that come to discuss important topics such as having a relationship with Christ and character development. It’s a wonderful time for fathers and daughters to bond. It’s always a very special weekend.”
Unlike the Mother-Daughter and Father-Son retreats, the Father-Daughter retreats offer a different option for those staying overnight.
“We still have both the fathers and daughters staying in our heated cabins, but they don’t stay together. Instead, all the girls go with a girl’s staff member who stays with the girls overnight, and the men stay together in another cabin,” explained Richbart.
The winter retreats offer a wide range of activities that include sledding and tubing.
“We have a great hill right outside our dining hall, and you can sit there, drink cocoa and watch families sled or tube down the hill. It’s fantastic! And if there’s no snow, we still offer plenty of activities in our gym and game room,” explained Richbart.
Richbart advises those interested in attending the parent-child retreats to sign up early.
Winter retreats for groups and organizations
In addition to the camp’s planned retreats, many churches and organizations look to book the camp during the winter months for conferences and youth retreats.
“Winter has become a really popular time for groups to book their retreats,” explains Richbart.
Those interested in booking the camp can choose to stay in the heated cabins which hold up to 12 people, or the double cabins which can hold 24 people. These cabins offer a short walk to a bathroom facility that has multiple showers and bathroom stalls. There are lodge facilities that have two bedrooms each, as well as a living room, bathroom and kitchenette, and can hold 4-5 people respectfully. Additionally, the property offers eight single room cottages that can sleep 2-4 people.
The property has a large dining facility that can seat up to 250 people and all meals are served cafeteria style. There’s a variety of meal options that groups can choose from. The dining hall can also be used as a meeting hall and for worship, and there’s a covered porch that can seat 64.
For planned activities, guests can utilize an activity building that also serves as a multi-purpose space. It can accommodate 24 beds, has a kitchen area and bathrooms.
For those loving the outdoors, there is a pavilion meeting space that in the warmer months serves as a picnic area for up to 75 people. There is also a gym with a basketball court and a game room with ping-pong tables, carpetball tables, a pool table, box hockey and a sitting area.
“Our greatest challenge is finding volunteers to help out with the events,” stated Richbart. “We already have a wonderful group of folks that work together and continually train, but we can always use more.”
The camp relies on financial partners to help fund the ministry. Interested partners can make a tax-deductible donation that will be used to “build Godly families for today and tomorrow.” The money donated is distributed to a general fund for maintenance and purchasing; a designated fund to go to special events and causes; and a mission support fund to support staff salaries.
Christian Service Brigade and Camp Hickory Hill
The camp was initially established by the Christian Service Brigade (CSB) and the connection between CSB and Camp Hickory Hill continues to be a strong one. Camp Hickory Hill currently helps to support a CSB men’s conference entitled, “Iron Sharpens Iron: A conference for equipping men.”
According to Richbart, these conferences have been around for some time, but never in the region of Camp Hickory Hill.
“In 2008, before I was with the camp full-time, the president of CSB wanted each regional director to do an equipping seminar within our region and see what connections we could make. I was the regional director at the time but there were no conferences within our region, which serves western and central Pennsylvania and New York,” explained Richbart. “So, we reached out to about 50-60 churches in the area to participate, with the goal of strengthening the church and equipping men to be strong for their families. The conference was held in Buffalo and we sold out! Over 600 men attended. We then decided to add another conference in Rochester and again, we sold out. Then we realized we needed a larger venue. On November 2, 2019, we will be hosting another “Iron Sharpens Iron” conference, but this time we’ll be at a larger facility, the Greece Assembly Church. We’re very excited because the new venue will allow more people to come, and the keynote speakers are a father and son team, Crawford Loritts, the senior pastor of Fellowship Bible in Roswell, Georgia, and his son Bryndan Loritts, senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Nashville, Tennessee.”
It is part of the camp’s goal to help strengthen churches as they share their ministry with others, and Richbart has found the men’s conference to be a great place to do this.
“The Iron Sharpens Iron conference is run by a ministry with ‘boots on the ground’ so to speak,” explained Richbart. “If you told me [ten years ago] that we would be supporting such a conference, I wouldn’t have had any idea of how to begin. But now, this conference is more than just a one-day event, it’s a way to share what our ministry is doing.
For more information on events at Camp Hickory Hill, call (585) 535-7832, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.CampHickoryHill.org. For more information on the Christian Service Brigade Iron Sharpens Iron conference, visit https://csbministries.org/isi/