You can hear them before you see them.
They’re singing loudly, from the top of their lungs, in the dining hall of Camp Naue. To some, it’s a beautiful sound, and even more important, an answer to prayer.
“God is so faithful. This year, we only had 20 campers. In order for us to be able to pay for the camp, we needed to have at least 32 campers. We prayed,” explained Terrie Johnson.
Camp Good News has been facilitating fun for Kauai’s keiki for decades. Founded in 1983 by Phil and Lynn Luttrell, the camp is held each July for children 6 to 15. The camp, which wrapped up last week, is self-sufficient, relying solely on camper tuition. When the Luttrells retired in 2011, Jimmy and Terrie Johnson took up the helm as camp coordinators.
“I appreciate the approach,” Jimmy said. “It’s very open. It’s a nice, pleasant introduction to the spiritual.”
The Johnsons roll over the campground deposit each year without knowing how many kids are going to sign up. However, things always seem to work out. By the end of June, exactly 32 campers had signed up. A last-minute camper came in after camp started.
“There is always room for one more,” Jimmy said.
Another concern was finding a camp cook. Stepping up to fill a need, members of Anahola Baptist Church undertook the task of providing daily meals.
“It’s beautiful how God provides,” Terrie said.
Brandon Thomas of Oahu has been leading the camp for seven years as camp director. He recruits adult and teen volunteers who must undergo criminal background checks and rigorous training before being selected. Many are former campers who “aged out,” and others raise their own money to fly in from neighbor islands or the Mainland to lend a hand.
“It’s these people who make it happen,” Jimmy said, gesturing to the unsung heroes who work around the clock to ensure that things run smoothly.
Adult staff members work regular jobs in the community. Using their personal vacation time to rough it in cabins for a week, these volunteers are the backbone of Camp Good News. The teens must complete a nine-month training period, with rigorous criteria including scripture memory and service.
“There is something to be said of that kind of giving, giving with joy. Volunteers do this from their hearts— it’s special.” Terrie said.
Terry Feliz, whose mother was a cook in previous years, added, “Whole families get involved; it’s a multi-generational thing.”
Elizabeth Luttrell, daughter of the camp’s founders, has been involved with Camp Good News since she was 2 years old. Now 20 and living in South Carolina, she worked full time to save enough for a ticket to Kauai.
The reason? To carry on the torch of the Camp Good News legacy as a camper-turned-counselor.
“Growing up, I always thought the counselors were the coolest people, and as a camper I really looked up to them. Now I am one and I realize we’re not that cool,” she said with a smile.
A camp favorite is horseback riding.
“It’s good for the kids on the North Shore to experience this,” said Waipa Ranch’s Patrick Kelekoma, who has been saddling up his horses for the camp for three years.
He said it’s what he can do, “helping a bunch of people, not just a few.”
Other fun events include a giant slip n’ slide, arts and crafts and nighttime crab hunts on the beach. Campers participate in crazy games, skits, and healthy competition, with points being scored for clean cabins and finding hidden counselors. Coordinators also incorporate educational and cultural activities, hosting an archery instructor and Native American expert in previous years. This year, David Rovinsky taught campers about ocean safety and spearfishing.
Thomas said the children make the camp special. Most hear of the camp from older siblings and bring their friends. Many do not come from a church background.
“They are gracious kids, they know someone is doing something for them to be here,” Feliz said as he watched campers run barefoot on the grass after a Frisbee, sand stuck between their toes from the last swim and a touch of sunburn on their cheeks.
Remarkably, the fun and camaraderie doesn’t end when campers say goodbye. The friendships among campers and counselors are not only life-changing, but long-lasting.
Luttrell summed up the camp purpose in six words.
“To love, that’s all that matters,” she said.