Atheists and Humanists raise funds for kids: Freethinking community gathers to support campers

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“It is time to stand up and support children from non-religious families,” says one freethought community leader.

“For years, non-religious families have been ignored by the larger freethought community.  Now is the time to change that,” said Jeannette Watland.

Jeannette is the Chair of Camp Quest of Minnesota, a nonprofit secular summer camp which holds a weekly residential camp in Minnetrista. It will be held from July 25 to July 31 this year.  Forty-eight campers from age 8 to 15 have registered this year, up from just 11 in 2004, the year Camp Quest was founded. 

After volunteering as a camp counselor in 2007 and serving as President of Minnesota Atheists in 2009-10, she has the energy to excite the freethought community to benefit children. “Religious communities have done a great job of raising children together. This benefits children, but is also helpful for parents to network, share success and failure stories and to simply not feel so alone. There isn’t a good reason why the freethought community can’t do the same,” Watland said.

On May 23, at Jaycees Shelter in Central Park in Roseville, a picnic fundraiser was held to raise funds to support the efforts of Camp Quest. The freethought organizations of the Twin Cities were invited and it was a great event for families to attend.

According to Watland, some people have expressed concerns that Camp Quest is like “Jesus Camp” for atheists. Counselors and staff are strict about not labeling children “atheist” or “humanist” because it isn’t appropriate to label children with a worldview.

“You won’t find our campers expressing anti-religious rhetoric,” Watland said. “Campers have to live in a majority religious community and bigotry toward religion is something we don’t teach.”

Camp Quest of Minnesota includes traditional summer camp activities, such as canoeing, archery, field games and camp fire songs. It is unique because of the educational activities which teach ethics, critical thinking and respect for others with a different worldview. Campers also participate in a service project to give back to the community.

“We try to include a presentation from a religious speaker. This allows the children to become comfortable with the language of belief and they can ask questions to gain understanding.  Outside of Camp Quest, kids feel more empowered to express their own ideas respectfully,” Watland said.

Camp Quest is also a great way for young people to build a community. Counselors are mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, a group of people who don’t typically get involved in freethought organizations.

Rick Rohrer, past Chair of Camp Quest of Minnesota, said he hopes Camp Quest helps to break down negative stereotypes of the non-religious.  “There are many people who feel that you need religion to raise ethical, caring children who care about our world and our communities. Camp Quest has proven that isn’t so,” Rohrer said. “Camp Quest is giving children the confidence they need to think for themselves.”

For information about Camp Quest of Minnesota, visit minnesota.camp-quest.org or call 612-709-6719.

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