kin∙dom community adds Campers, Young Leaders, and another Location in its Second Season!
kin∙dom camp, a ministry of kin∙dom community, a new worshipping community of Grace Presbytery, is expanding quickly this summer numerically, programmatically, and geographically. Registration is open for kin∙dom community’s second season of summer camp for LGBTQ+ youth in Texas. The camp will accept 80 campers this year, which is space for 20 more than last year. Registration is also open for its new young adult leadership program, designed to reach young leaders aged 18-20. This is also the year that the new worshipping community rolls out a second camp at Zephyr Point in Lake Tahoe, California!
The expansion of the ministry isn’t due to the latest trendy model or a big, new fancy building, rather, it’s about identifying and reaching a community that needs representation.
“You have these moments at camp where everyone in the room is smiling, we’re having a great time. And then you think about how next we go back in the real world, where we don’t have the space. We can be in touch over Discord or whatever, but we only have this space a few times where we can be – truly knowing that everyone in the room celebrates and affirms and is safe to be around. A lot of camp was realizing ‘why can’t it be like this all the time?’” said Baylee Davis, Director of Camp Curation and Education and seminary intern for kin∙dom community.
kin∙dom camp’s Vision
kin∙dom camp began with a short comment to founding pastor and Executive Director Pepa Paniagua after baptizing Andy Hackett. Hackett contacted Paniagua about getting baptized while attending another camp in the summer of 2020.
“Andy said in passing, after his baptism, ‘hey, I have this thing, and I’m dreaming about it. And, would kin∙dom host it?’ And I responded, ‘absolutely.’ (I was) really thinking that at this point, we’re in the pandemic, he’s not going to remember, he’s in school, no way. I was wrong,” said Paniagua.
Andy said in passing, after his baptism, ‘hey, I have this thing, and I’m dreaming about it. And, would kin∙dom host it?’ And I responded, ‘absolutely.’
Hackett had a long history with summer camps, having attended camps since 2009. Most of those camp experiences were in the context of being in a gluten-free community. Hackett has celiac disease, and exposure to gluten can be life-threatening to him. From that experience, Hackett pitched the idea of a camp for LGBTQ+ youth to Garrett DeGraffenreid, a camp staff member.
The two discussed and worked on the idea, but Hackett brought the idea to life during an English Composition class. “We had to write a research paper about whatever we wanted, so I wrote about the positive impacts that summer camps could have on transgender youth. And then we had to remix (it) as our final and basically take it from a paper to literally anything else. So I turned it into a proposal for a LGBTQ summer camp,” said Hackett. That plan he took it to Pepa Paniagua, and it became kin∙dom camp.
kin∙dom camp’s First Year
Paniagua added Andy Hackett and Garrett DeGraffenreid to the staff to bring kin∙dom camp to life. Hackett and DeGraffenreid had experience working as staff and were long-time campers themselves. Hackett serves as the Director of Camp Programs, Training, and Development. DeGraffenreid serves as Director of Camp Operations, Logistics, and Development. Both are also full-time students.
Contributors submitted materials that would make up the curriculum of the first kin∙dom camp. As items were rolling in, seminary student Baylee Davis saw a posting for the camp that she thought would work well for her seminary internship. Davis was looking for an opportunity to reach the LGBTQ+ community.
Within a week of her deadline to fill the internship, and during one of the busiest times of the church year, Holy Week, Baylee was able to arrange a meeting between Paniagua and Davis’ church pastor.
Because these kids need each other. And their families need to know that at the winter retreat that’s literally just two days, they can have a reboot of what it is to remember what it’s like to be in a space where they are not anything less than whole, and wonderful, and free.
“So they did, they agreed to meet me Tuesday of Holy Week, before everything went crazy. And, both of them were like, ‘this feels mutually beneficial.’ This feels like I was stepping in with the skills they were looking for, that they had a hole in their staff. And, I obviously needed a space just like this,” said Davis.
Davis was critical to the success of that first year of kin∙dom camp, as the person who was able to revise and edit the curriculum so that it really ‘worked.’ She also led music and did administrative work for the camp.
During that first summer, the camp hosted 58 campers ages 11 to 17. But it turned out that camp wasn’t just for campers. Families responded. On hearing about the camp, allies began to show up to see what they could do to lend support. An Amazon wish list was created, which sold out in just two days. Between all of the support and the experience of campers, it was clear that kin∙dom camp was filling a need. Paniagua estimates that between campers, support staff, and families members that kin∙dom camp already had a community of around 200 people.
Shortly after finishing camp, it became clear the need for community that developed during the summer existed year-round. They heard from campers that camp was a great motivator and they wanted more to sustain them throughout the year. kin∙dom community made plans for a winter retreat in response.
“Because these kids need each other. And their families need to know that at the winter retreat that’s literally just two days, they can have a reboot of what it is to remember what it’s like to be in a space where they are not anything less than whole, and wonderful, and free,” said Paniagua.
kin∙dom camp in Texas
Space for 20 additional campers will be available this summer, and 10 young adult leaders will receive training in Texas, too.
The Young Adult Leadership Training program is structured as a cohort, with space made to participate in camp and intentional conversation around the meaning of being an LGBTQ+ person in the world. Those in the training program (ages 18 to 20) will be shepherded by a facilitator and will meet with other members during the year in the cohort. The following year, that person will work with a facilitator to shepherd others.
…I just want there to be as many safe spaces out there for queer kids, because especially in Texas, as soon as they are put up, they are being taken away even faster.
“We’re not the first LGBTQ camp out there. There are a good handful out there. From what we can tell, we were one of the first in Texas, and one of the first affiliated with a spiritual community, which is a really cool thing,” said Hackett.
Hackett went on to say, “I could care less if the name kin∙dom is attached to the camps. While I love it and I think it’s great, I just want there to be as many safe spaces out there for queer kids, because especially in Texas, as soon as they are put up, they are being taken away even faster.”
This year marks the founding of another one of those safe spaces, and it’s happening in California.
kin∙dom camp Zephyr Point
kin∙dom camp Zephyr Point opens this summer near Lake Tahoe, California. Some may see the address and wonder why a state like California would import this model from Texas. Paniagua grew up in the bay area, and knows that the Lake Tahoe area has more in common with the political climate of Texas than one would infer from its address.
Talks about bringing kin∙dom camp to Zephyr Point started at a gathering for camp innovators hosted by Montreat Conference Center in November of 2022.
“At Montreat in November, I got to spend some really intentional time with one of their (Zephyr Point’s) program staff and their new Executive Director. I know that there a lot of people who look at California and Tahoe and say, ‘what need could there be for queer kids out there?’ But because of the location of Tahoe, I actually know that there are a ton of kids who are not getting the resources and support they need,” said Paniagua.
Working with Zephyr Point, kin∙dom camp was able to make arrangements to export the marketing, curriculum, and model that made it a success in Texas.
“I think what we learned, what we know, is that the model of the partnership with Zephyr is easier to scale; however, the model that we’ve created in Texas is going to be vitally important in places where the Zephyr model is not possible,” said Paniagua. “The hope is that whatever model is necessary, kin∙dom community and kin∙dom camp are nimble enough to work with the right partners to make something possible.”
There are two ways to support the ministry of kin∙dom camp. kin∙dom community has an “invest” page on their website, allowing people to underwrite scholarships for campers. kin∙dom camp will also post an Amazon wish list again this year, for those wanting to provide practical supplies for the camp.
Campers and young adults interested in the Young Adult Leadership Training Program can also sign up through the camp page on kin∙dom’s website.
Rev. Pepa Paniagua
Pepa Paniagua is a pastor, facilitator, speaker, and writer. Pepa is the founding pastor of kin∙dom community, a new worshipping community in Grace Presbytery. Paniagua also recently joined the Grace Presbytery staff as Cyclical Director. In this role, she helps create systems and processes to accompany and nurture people as they dream, innovate, and step into new things the Holy Spirit is calling them to. Pepa and her wife, Kelli, live in Plano with their two dogs and beloved coffee maker.