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Camporee brings 1,500 Youth to Town

Camporee brings 1,500 youth to town

By Jason Ferguson

Photo Looking at the Kindred Spirit Camp Ground
There were tents all over the northern part of the property near Custer Jr/Sr. High School and elementary school when the Mid America Union held its Pathfinders Camporee in town last week. The camporee was a function of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

For five days last week, the population of the City of Custer nearly doubled. And it’s not even motorcycle rally time.

Instead of leather-clad bikers, Custer was flooded with over 1,500 youth ages 10 to 16 who came to Custer as part of the Mid American Union (MAU) Camporee. Headquartered in Lincoln, Neb., the MAU Conference facilitates the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a nine-state region and every five years, the “Pathfinders,” a faith-based scouting program similar to Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, gather for a time of spiritual growth, empowerment and fun.

Leaders of the conference came July 21 to prepare for the arrival of the youth, who came last Wednesday. MAU rents out the entire complex of the Custer Jr./Sr. High School and elementary school to those who attend camp for the duration of their stay.

Set up within the schools are MAU’s administrative offices, a nurse’s station, a full-time media team, a Pathfinder museum and even a store for accessories.

This is no group of unprepared campers, either. Hubert Cisneros, MAU’s youth director, comes to Custer well ahead of time to begin preparing, taking on tasks such as coordinating with the school district, preparing for trash removal, renting portapotties and working with local businesses such as Lynn’s Dakotamart, Custer Regional Hospital and Shopko to make sure they are prepared for the onslaught of supplies that will be needed during the camp.

If preparations aren’t made, “We could easily wipe out Shopko,” says Cathy Ward, one of the leaders of the camporee.

Every detail is considered, from security to first aid. There is even a weather emergency plan. In addition to the youth, hundreds of adults are on hand, from MAU staff members to parents to doctors, nurses and physician’s assistants. Every adult is screened with a background check before coming on the trip.

Campers are expected to be self-sustaining while on the trip, meaning they supply their own food and ways to cook it, if needed. Showers are put up in the camp, with campers filling up large solar bags with water to leave out in the sun for use in the shower.

While here, campers visit a variety of places to receive honors and earn patches. Places they visited included Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Crazy Horse Memorial, Black Elk Peak, Sylvan Lake and Big Thunder Gold Mine.

Days started at 6:45 a.m. with reveille, followed by a flag-raising, breakfast, meetings and outdoor assembly and a welcome from the praise band, which plays on a stage set up between the schools. By 9:30 a.m., the youth were off to their activities, loading up in four large motorcoaches to get to their destination. MAU also rented 30 busses from Harlows.

The youth came from 10 states in the region.

Ward said Pathfinders is about leadership and teaching the youth to be productive adults.

“We’re training young people to be good citizens,” she said.

Since it is faith-based, prayer and Bible reading play a large role, as does doing projects in the communities they visit. Some of the campers spent a day doing mission projects on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on their way to Custer.

Custer was chosen as the location for the event for a few reasons, not the least of which is it doesn’t get quite as hot in the summer as other areas in the region. The other reason is the plentiful opportunities for young people to explore in the Hills.

Ward said the camp is a win-win, as it provides the perfect setting for the camporee while also benefiting Custer, as the camp tries to contract locally and use local stores while here.

“We want Custer to like us,” she said. “It’s really a good thing. We just love it here. It’s beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”