On Monday, July 13, Carmen LaRue and Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church Pastor Audria Thomason-Botkin, both of Hillsboro, loaded five Pocahontas County middle school girls–Crystal Mayle, Erica Mayle, Brianna Sharp, Marlena Williams and Jamie Wallis–and their bags into their cars and headed to Upshur County to join 200 other campers from across the state for the “best week of their lives.”
“I love camp,” said LaRue. “I like being around the kids, and the kids are happy. They’re excited, and the excitement of the kids is what gets me excited – especially when the ones who have never been there before get to see what club is like. The kids love that they can get dirty and messy and that they can get their leader dirty and messy.”
And it was not just the rain and the mud that got the girls messy. Water balloons, flour bombs, and shaving cream were just some of the items used during the field games to turn best of friends into temporary foes.
“They didn’t get me wet,” said LaRue, “and they didn’t put flour on me. They did get me with the shaving cream, though.”
In addition to the field games, campers raced against opposing WyldLife areas in a relay race where they had to be the first to complete the ten items on their list. The MMS girls faced off against the camp program directors in volleyball, raced to capture the prisoner, and put forth their best effort to sink three buckets during a basketball challenge.
“The challenge is to see how fast you can do each one,” LaRue said. “This was the one where they [the girls] said they were going to get me a wheelchair because they couldn’t move on to the next challenge without their leader, and I couldn’t run.”
Certain outdoor activities had to be postponed and/or canceled due to rainy weather. However, the missed activities were made up for during club.
Often described as “a party with a purpose” and “controlled chaos,” WyldLife clubs are a practiced art form–full of games, laughter, music and skits featuring an array of characters–and the clubs at camp are no different.
“They are high energy and interactive, fast paced and unpredictable,” Younglife.org writes. “Leaders use personal testimonies, media clips, popular songs and a lot of creativity when planning club.”
“Club night for them–being able to be wild and crazy and loud–I like to watch them do that,” LaRue said. “I like that part.”
During their four days at the club-filled camp, the girls got to experience a glow-in-the-dark dance party, a country and rodeo night full of hillbilly games, and a group of blindfolded leaders play musical chairs during a game.
Near the end of each club, the campers settled down to listen to a speaker, Allie Childers, of Huntington, share a brief, yet simple message about the love God has for them.
WyldLife first came to Pocahontas County in September 2013 after LaRue expressed a desire to offer Pocahontas County middle schoolers something more.
“We [at Wesley Chapel UMC] did an after-school program, and I was watching the kids,” LaRue said. “Once they finished fifth grade and were out of the elementary school, we just lost contact with them. I was looking for some way to keep them from falling through the cracks after that.”
With the help of the District Superintendent for the Wesley Chapel UMC, LaRue came into contact with Nicholas County Young Life Area Director Brian Shirak.
“We contacted Brian,” said LaRue, “and he came over with Scott Berg [West Virginia State Director of Young Life. We just talked to them, and they were very surprised that someone wanted to be a leader [without Young Life having been previously implanted in the community]. We said ‘We’re going to do this backwards, but we’ll give it a try.’ We just wanted to do something for the kids.
“[WyldLife] offers an activity to the kids in a community where they don’t have many activities, and it brings to the kids adults that care. It’s just one way for them to see that adults do care and care that they are kids. It lets them be kids in themselves and builds that relationship. For me and my faith journey, that’s what I think we should be doing – showing them a relationship in Christ through our actions. Then we can bring the Gospel to them.”
When LaRue and Shirak held their first WyldLife club, they had eight students in attendance – six of those being students LaRue brought from Hillsboro.
Since their first club, LaRue has seen the number of middle schoolers in attendance fluctuate but said that more kids have shown an interest in the past year. Their largest club to date had thirty-five students attend.
LaRue has also gained a multitude of helpers over the years.
“The Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church has had their Mission 10 dedicated to [WyldLife] for a while,” she said. “They participated in providing items for our baked goods sales, and then the Methodist Women’s group at Wesley Chapel did some scholarships for camp. Pastor Audria just became a volunteer leader, too.”
Outside donors have also shown support for Pocahontas County WyldLife, and in April, Young Life Staff Associate David Moore moved to Marlinton to start up Young Life and help grow WyldLife throughout the county.
When asked where she hoped to see WyldLife in the future, LaRue expressed a desire to see more WyldLife clubs throughout the county, as well as parent involvement.
“If I were to put my pipe dream out there, I would like to see a club in Hillsboro, Marlinton, and Green Bank,” she said. “I don’t know enough about the upper end to know if Durbin would be the next one [town], but I would like to see us have a WyldLife club, at least, in Marlinton and Green Bank – in both ends of the county.
“I’d also like to invite people to bring their kids. I would like parents, when we have clubs, to come and see what we’re about. Come to one club – that’s my thing. I don’t want you just to drop your kids off. I’d like you to see what we’re doing so you’re comfortable with your kids coming and with us around your kids. That’s our whole deal – we’re going to build that relationship, and we want you to be comfortable that, as adults, we’re going to build relationships.”
A joint interest meeting for WyldLife and Young Life will be held Monday, August 17, 2015 at 7:07 p.m. at the Marlinton Wellness Center.
For more information regarding WyldLife and Young Life in Pocahontas County, Young Life Staff Associate David Moore may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 304-619-6983.