By Jennifer Johnson
Melanie Moore grew up loving her summertime weeks at Woodland Lakes Christian Camp (Amelia, OH), and today she loves raising her four girls.
“But I see what their friends struggle with—cutting, eating disorders, and so much more,” she says. “It breaks my heart. So I thought, what if we started a girls-only week at camp?”
Woodland Lakes already offered a week of wilderness camp for boys, and in 2013 agreed to work with Melanie, a member at Ross Christian Church (Hamilton, OH), to create a week for middle school girls.
“The first year we had 35 girls going into seventh, eighth, or ninth grade,” Moore says. “Our theme was ‘Girl on Fire’ from the Hunger Games series.” The week included classes, free time, lots of conversations, and a dress-up reception on Thursday night where the girls could take the purity oath committing to sexual abstinence until marriage. Seven girls got baptized during the week, and Moore says she hadn’t even left the camp that summer before she was planning a winter retreat.
“I love camp, but the retreat is awesome because you’re inside and in each other’s faces, so you have to get to know each other better,” she says. “These girls built relationships that are just unbreakable, and it’s easier to be themselves and be vulnerable because there are no boys around to impress!”
The second year the camp focused on what it means to be a leader at school, in your home, at church, and among your friends. Moore challenged the girls to organize a shoe drive for Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes shoes, after their return home, and for each one to bring at least 50 pairs of shoes to the camp picnic a month later. They returned with more than 2,000 pairs.
“So we drove down to the Soles4Souls headquarters in Nashville and took a tour!” she says.
The ministry continues to grow; this summer she completed her third week of camp, this winter she’ll lead the third winter retreat, and one day a month the girls gather for a three-hour Bible study plus crafts, cooking lessons, and more. This year the girls collected almost 3,500 pairs of shoes and participated in a workday at the Soles4Souls warehouse.
This summer the youngest girls who began camping with Moore in 2013 also graduated to high school—and begged her to let them stay in the program.
“We decided we can’t kick them out of the nest, because they’re not connecting anywhere else,” she says. “So next summer we’ll do lessons together and then split up for small groups. We’re also developing a mentorship program for the older girls to work with the younger ones.”
Moore says she’ll keep the ministry going and growing as long as it’s effective.
“I think it keeps expanding because God is in it,” she says. “I believe these girls need a voice and a place to be heard. Some people think teenage girls are hard to work with, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”