While The Salvation Army’s Eliza Seymour was leading a devotional lesson at Camp Ladore last summer on the importance of putting Jesus first, others second, and yourself third, one of the campers made an astute observation. The words Jesus, others, and you form the acronym J.O.Y. Joy for Jesus is the centerpiece of Camp Ladore.
Each summer, The Salvation Army’s 1,200-acre Camp Ladore in the Pocono Mountains provides a retreat for hundreds of children ages 7–16. The camp boasts activities of all kinds: hiking, horseback riding, nature study, ziplining, crafts, paddle-boarding, musical theater and much more. One week of traditional sleep-away camp can cost $1,000 or more. Thanks to the generosity of the many donors whose contributions have supported Camp Ladore since it opened in 1967, low-income families can afford to give their children an experience of a lifetime.
Abby Leljedal of Columbia Crossroads in Bradford County had just finished kindergarten when she first went to Camp Ladore. She and her older sister, Amber, went along, too, and for nine years, Camp Ladore has been the highlight of the Leljedal sisters’ summers. Amber said one of the best things about going to Camp Ladore was the freedom to be herself and not be judged by others. Last summer the girls, now 15 and 18, returned to Camp Ladore as junior staff members through the Camp’s JOY Program.
Camp Ladore’s JOY program is a job training and development program offered to youth ages 14–17. JOY staff apprentice under senior staff members to learn skills that will serve them in future camp positions as well as in other jobs.
As junior staff members, Abby and Amber rotated among jobs in the kitchen and as counselors to children of staff members working at Camp Ladore. JOY staff reports to Camp Ladore one week before campers arrive and stay one week after the last session, for a total of eight weeks. One week of camp is much different from eight, and Abby said it was a big adjustment.
“The first week was a little scary and because we aren’t part of a Salvation Army Corps, we didn’t know people or how everything works,” said Abby. “But after a few days we felt like we were part of a family.”
At the beginning of the summer, all members of the JOY Program participate in Jesus Theater, a weekly performance put on by staffers to share the Gospel through music, dance, and storytelling. Eliza Seymour was pleasantly surprised when both girls decided to remain in Jesus Theater, even though it wasn’t a requirement.
Eliza is the Christian Education Coordinator for Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. Eliza coordinates and develops all aspects of the Camp Ladore program, including hiring and supervising the junior staff. Eliza said the changes in Abby and Amber from when they interviewed for the JOY staff position and after the summer are remarkable.
As Joy Staff, Amber and Abby were completely wonderful surprises,” said Eliza. “I continue to be excited by how much they grew and blossomed over the summer. They were enthusiastic, dependable, and involved girls.“
Becky Leljedal, Abby and Amber’s mother, said their Camp Ladore experience has brought them closer to God. “As a family, we’ve been through a lot of trials and faith in the Lord is what gets us through,” said Becky.