Ann Stevens said the summer camp experience helps youth build stronger friendships than they might have in a school setting. Photo courtesy of Teen Ranch Canada

Teen Ranch stays true to its Christian roots

  • March 20, 2015

Over the past 48 years, generations of teens have been introduced to their faith at Teen Ranch Canada. Ann Stevens, who is now in charge of staff development at the Caledon, Ont., ranch and a former camper herself, is one of these people. She was 13 years old when she and her sister first came to the Christian camp in the early 1970s.

“We didn’t go to church from the time I was five. I believed in God, but it was something that my parents rarely talked about,” said Stevens. “When I asked God to save me through Jesus, I was 13... I started to read the Bible every day and so Jesus became my best friend.”

Stevens said her spiritual growth came at different stages in her life. After her first experience at the camp, she entered high school where a teacher challenged her to think about Teen Ranch as a life opportunity.

“One of my profs in high school was the one who challenged us to really consider what you want to do with your life and look at where you really want to spend your time working,” she said.

Mel Stevens, Teen Ranch founder and director of Teen Ranch Canada at the time, had invited her to come back as part of the summer staff to work every other weekend.

After graduating from university, Stevens got her first full-time job at Teen Ranch working as the office receptionist and the rest was history. At the age of 25, she married Mel’s son, Tim, current director of Teen Ranch Canada.

Stevens said it is very common for staff to have been former campers. “I would say 89 per cent (are former campers),” she said.

People keep coming back to Teen Ranch because of its peaceful atmosphere, she said. Every day the staff prays for the Holy Spirit to be evident at the ranch. Stevens said it also has to do with the nature of going to camp.

“You get much closer to people through camp than you would through going to high school with them... It’s like Jesus’ disciples and how they get together for a lecture and then they go and live it out.”

Although the camp is not Catholic, Stevens said it is important to create opportunities for teens to be introduced to God at an early stage and integrate their Christian faith in their daily living. Teen Ranch strives to promote youth development physically, intellectually, socially and spiritually.

“We want to help young people develop in all areas,” she said. “I came from an unchurched home myself, so we wanted to create a program for the kids who don’t know anything about God and introduce them to basic ideas.”

The summer programs have 10- to 15-minute devotional sessions after lunch where campers are presented the topics like who God is, who Jesus is, what is sin and many other fundamental concepts. Stevens said counsellors can vary these devotional sessions, depending on each group’s spiritual maturity.

Because of her first-hand experience at Teen Ranch, Stevens developed a comprehensive training program for its staff members. Staff are also required to take an online training course and a nine-part Bible study program. Every year the ranch hosts a week-long training retreat where staff hear from former staff members and gain specific training for their particular department.

“(As a camp counsellor) you’re with these kids 24/7 and you’re having to establish guidelines as a group... you want this to go smoothly. You’re also playing the role of a parent... It’s a big responsibility.”

Teen Ranch has expanded internationally, but each camp is run locally and independently. Teen Ranch Canada was established in 1967 in Caledon. The camp is run all-year round as a sports and retreat facility.

As the ranch closes in on its 50th anniversary, Stevens hopes for Teen Ranch to maintain the high standard it has achieved over the years.

“I want us to keep doing what we’re doing. There are a lot of Christian organizations that started out with good intentions and somehow the Christian focus just gets watered down... I remember when I first started working in the office as a full-time staff for the first time, I read an article about Mel when he first started the camp in Australia...

When I read that, it’s like nothing’s changed. It’s still the same focus.”

Teen Ranch acts as a retreat facility for many schools across the province and is also host to parish youth groups and other community-based retreats.

During the summer, the ranch runs seven types of camps.

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