During an event we were hosting a few years ago related to my job, I found myself sitting at Camp Allen asking myself, “Do I really need to go to Eucharist, or do I want to go to bed?” In all fairness, it was a long day and I was exhausted. I looked at my sister and thought, “When will we ever have the opportunity to sit through Eucharist with 150 Episcopal priests?” So we went. That moment changed me.
My guess is that it had been at least 20 years since I was actively involved in organized religion. I struggled with my faith and what it all meant and for me - this was just the beginning of my connection with Camp Allen. After this event ended, I kept thinking of the friendships and memories I made during this time at Camp Allen. Some of the friendships I made have meant more to me than I ever imagined.
When I got back to Houston, my daughter began asking questions about church. She wanted to know more. She wanted to go. So off to St. Mark’s Houston we went. It wasn’t long until we had built amazing friendships and found a community. We started going to the 5:00 pm contemporary service and that’s when I found the St. Mark’s song book. I spent an entire weekend listening to the songs, making playlists, and feeling curious about what all this meant for me. I will always remember during this weekend one of my friends said, “You think Beautiful Things is a great song now, wait until you hear a group of kids sing it at camp.”
Wait! What? Camp? Like summer camp? Yep!
I didn’t grow up as a kid that went to camp, so I was super intrigued about the whole idea AND now I know that the kids will sing these songs that are bringing tears to my eyes? Soon after, my friend Kim asked me if I wanted to be an adult resource during her week as a Director for St. Mark’s Houston at summer camp at Camp Allen. I mean, come on!! Are the stars aligning? Is this what faith feels like?
So here we go. My daughter and I pack up for a week at Camp Allen for summer camp. We were going the same week, but I think my daughter was a little relieved that we were going to be at different campsites. I remember thinking that this was a horrible idea. To come to summer camp in Texas in August. WHAT WAS I THINKING? It took about 20 minutes and I forgot how hot it was. We decorated and set up. We planned skits and songs. Part of me wished I could just be one of the kids and experience camp through their eyes. I’m pretty sure that most of the time that was exactly what was happening.
Night time rolled around on the first night with the kids, and that’s when the waterworks started. As soon as my other new friends started playing their guitars and the kids all started singing, I couldn’t even explain what was happening. The week continued and so did the traditions. I saw the kids connecting with each other, with us, with their spirituality, and with God. It was like nothing I have ever been apart of.
I couldn’t explain what I was feeling, but I was so happy. Each time I saw my daughter, she would get tears in her eyes and share with me that she was feeling the same way. She shared that she loved the people, loved the staff, loved the worship time, and cried when she heard the songs. This experience was happening for both of us. As the traditions and love continued, our joy, hope, and faith was taking us places that were new for us.
We did the same thing the next summer, wondering, “How could it ever be better than last summer?” Well, it was just wonderful. We made new traditions, embraced old traditions, and sang every song they played. This year, my new friends Brian and Alex ended our week playing and singing “Times,” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The song ended and the hugs started. These kids felt so connected and loved.
I feel super blessed with opportunities at Camp Allen. I get to go to Parrish Weekend with St. Mark’s, summer camp with Kim from St. Mark’s, and as part of my job, we also hold corporate events at Camp Allen where I get to spend tons of time with Josh Fultz. This guy makes me smile ALL THE TIME. I get to visit multiple times a year and each time I am wearing a different hat. What stays the same? That feeling I get when I turn left into the Camp Allen entrance off of 362. I get goose bumps, a smile on my face, and I am blown away by the love and connection I feel - that’s just from the driveway.
Blog Post by Ashley Brown Ruiz
Ashley is a Licensed Master of Social Work certified by the State of Texas. She received a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in Early Childhood Education from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Fueling a passion from working over a decade in a Title 1 school in Houston ISD, Ashley pursued a Master of Social Work from the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. As part of her role as Director, she leads The Daring Way Internship Program with students seeking a Master of Social Work. Ashley works with the interns to run therapy groups at different agencies around the Houston area. Her experience comes from working with women in residential recovery, adolescents in recovery, and middle school girls. Ashley’s work with vulnerability and courage allows her to help clients put together all the pieces of their lives in order to help them move toward the life they hope to create. She is a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator and a member of the National Association of Social Workers. When Ashley isn’t working, she enjoys listening to music, laughing with her friends, Texas road trips, and spending time with her daughter and family.