Twenty-five-year-old Travis Yoder is the first Cameron Boys Camp chief who was once a camper. His journey to this historic time began when he was a withdrawn boy who helplessly witnessed his parents’ marriage implode.
“I internalized everything,” Yoder remembers. “My mom and I didn’t talk and, as most children do, I thought they would get back together and it would be okay.”
When it didn’t, and things became worse, his mom loaded Yoder and his younger brothers in the family car, left their home in Wisconsin, and fled to Colorado and the safety of her brother.
“I was angry. I thought how could she do this. I didn’t understand then all she had gone through and the courage it took to drive away,” he confesses.
Yoder says he turned more inward.
The occasional bursts of anger scared his mom. With all the broken, fragile family was dealing with, she knew she needed help. She began searching for someone and discovered online a wilderness camp for boys, a place that helped boys and families––a place in North Carolina, six states away.
“When I think now of all my mom did for us, I’m humbled,” Yoder says. “She was so determined. She believed Cameron Boys Camp could help me. She borrowed my uncle’s truck and box trailer, we loaded all we had, crowded into the cab, and began the more than 1,500 mile drive to Mt. Airy so we could be North Carolina residents and I could be admitted into Camp.”
In August 2009, the 14-year-old Yoder unpacked his clothes in his tent locker, laced up his boots, and joined the other Rangers.
“I could never have imagined then that God would bring me back to Camp,” Yoder says. “I remember thinking that I would like to be a Chief one day, but life kept getting in the way.”
In the fall of 2019, Yoder attended the first Camp homecoming. As he traveled from Mt. Airy, he says he felt a tug at his spirit. He was at a place of transition. He graduated college, he had no more excuses, and he began to think on the drive, “Why not now?”
“It was amazing how quickly everything happened,” he muses. “Interviews, job offer, training, it took a few months, but it felt like it was only days before I stood with the campers again, but this time as one of their Chiefs.”
As a chief, Travis Yoder brings something to the task that no other chief has before him. Yoder understands what it is like to face big challenges and heartbreak as a boy.
He understands what it is to come to Camp not knowing what to expect and in a little more than a year’s time have your life turned around, broken relationships with a parent put right. Yoder was a camper at Cameron Boys Camp for 18 months, completed the program, reached his goals, and graduated.
“I have experiences that other chiefs do not, Camp made sense day one,” Yoder asserts, “but I’m no different than any other chief when it comes to caring for the boys. Each chief wakes up every day giving it his all, learning with every camper. It’s the relational part that takes work. You learn quickly, it’s all about the relationships.”
Cameron Boys Camp is for boys ages 13-15. The year-round residential wilderness camp program helps campers overcome personal and family struggles.
Boys live in groups of ten with three counselors, called “Chiefs.” With the help of their peers and chiefs, campers learn discipline, establish positive behavior patterns, and grow self-worth. Camp is an accredited, non-public school licensed by the state of North Carolina educating boys through an experiential curriculum.
Camp is Christ centered where boys are shown the love of God and the example of Jesus as demonstrated in Scriptures.
Yoder was raised in church and a “practicing” Christian when he came to Camp as a boy. He says he realized early that being a Christian at Camp was more than words, “it was more than just saying you are a Christian.” He watched his chiefs and saw their lives were different.
“When I was a camper, I decided I was going to follow Jesus,” he recalls. “It’s the biggest decision a camper can make.”
Yoder says being a chief is the hardest work he has ever done, but also the most rewarding. “Knowing where the boys are now, where they came from, it’s something special. When I see a camper have success, big or small, I’m amazed.”
Cameron Boys Camp and Camp Duncan for Girls are looking for young men and women to be Chiefs. Call 910-245-4034 to learn more or visit www.bchfamily.org/help/wilderness
Article is written by Jim Edminson, Charity & Children Editor