Phil Yoder on Planning a Retreat

 Phil Yoder on Summer Staff in 2012

Phil Yoder on Summer Staff in 2012

We caught up with Phil Yoder, summer staff alum, and asked about his experience planning a retreat for youth from James Street Mennonite.

What were some differences in planning your own retreat vs. attending a pre-programmed retreat?  Camp Hebron programmed retreats offer great opportunities for kids to get to know each other from other youth groups, which was fun.

Planning our own youth retreat allowed for the activities we did to be specific to our kids, and offered more flexibility. It allows for input from the youth to form the retreat around their interests.

 Camp Hebron offers many activities like the Low Challenge Course

Camp Hebron offers many activities like the Low Challenge Course

However, planning our own retreat took much more work for me. We put together all the meals and all the programming and group time together. It went really well for us. We decided to do an add-on activity from Camp Hebron, the low ropes course. (There were several students disappointed we didn’t do horseback riding, maybe we’ll do that next year.) Planning our own retreat gave time for our youth group to get to know one another better.

What are some of the positives of having a smaller group for a retreat? You can more easily customize topics and have authentic conversations. Having a smaller more intimate setting allows more bonding within the group.  It's easier to prep and cook for meals. As a youth leader, I can also pick activities that I can lead well, too. 

 Sometimes the weather can impede upon retreats.

Sometimes the weather can impede upon retreats.

What were some of the challenges or setbacks? Our original retreat date got snowed out, so we couldn't come on our original date. The guest service team worked with us to find another date to accommodate our group. The process of rescheduling was really easy. We even switched lodging, and it was painless. As I said, we did our own meals. I could see that being stressful for others, but for us it wasn't so bad.

 A classic way to enjoy a retreat at Camp Hebron

A classic way to enjoy a retreat at Camp Hebron

What were some highlights from your retreat? We hiked Peter's Mountain as a group. It was a first time for several to hike the mountain. I think that was a good experience for many of them. One evening we did hot dogs and s’mores over the fire and had great conversation. We also had reflection time, and we played card games and things like that at night. Having less things programmed allowed for more opportunity to relax and be with each other. The laid back feel was also a highlight.

What are some things you did to prepare for your retreat? Wrote out a skeleton schedule and basic planning of all our meals. I delegated responsibility for planning some activities and buying food for the weekend to some of our volunteers. I contacted Camp ahead of time about the low ropes course (I had to make sure the waivers were taken care of). I had a couple different activities planned and three devotionals for the weekend. 

 Many youth groups will have bake sales and car washes to fundraise for a retreat.

Many youth groups will have bake sales and car washes to fundraise for a retreat.

Did you do anything to fundraise for your retreat and offset the cost for the youth? Every Christmas we make cookie ingredient jars. The cookie jar has all the dry ingredients you need for cookies. Youth leaders bring in a ton of dry ingredients and we have the youth measure out all the ingredients and place them in mason jars. Our church and community are really supportive in buying the cookie jars. 


Interested in planning your own retreat? Check out these links: