Kyle Rolph has over 30 years of experience working with children and youth in a variety of venues — and nearly 20 of those years have been spent in St. Thomas and Elgin County. Kyle joined the Youth Unlimited YFC Elgin County team in 2012 and currently contributes in a variety of ways to the faith-based organization.
Kyle oversees a weekly youth group, is involved with several students in St. Thomas schools as a mentor and coach, and runs The Upper Room: an emergency youth shelter open on an on-call, emergency basis to give young people in need of a safe, warm place to crash, somewhere to go for the night. Kyle also provides trusteeship support to several local youth at any given time.
Kyle recently attended Muskoka Woods through the Muskoka Woods Youth Foundation with some amazing kids from his community. We caught up with him to ask about the experience.
Why was it important to you to bring Youth Unlimited YFC Elgin County kids to summer camp at Muskoka Woods?
Bringing kids from YFC to Muskoka Woods is a highlight of our year. It enables kids who would not be able to experience a summer camp for various reasons to have an incredible experience at Muskoka Woods. There is something special that happens when a kid is able to leave the problems, pressures and worries of everyday life and go to a place where people are so kind and gracious and caring. They are able to be kids and enjoy new experiences and learn new things about themselves, their relationships with people and with God as well. For some of our kids, simple parts of the camp experience are things that a lot of people take for granted. Things like three meals every day, snacks, meaningful interactions with adults, and other youth, where they aren’t judged, bullied, teased and even neglected. Rather, they are engaged, encouraged, safe and very well fed!
How did summer camp, in your experience, benefit the kids from Youth Unlimited YFC Elgin County?
For many of our kids, it opens up their lives to so many new experiences and new and deeper relationships. For some of the kids that we bring up every year, it is a relief from a very tough life and difficult circumstances. Like I said, even the fact that they are given three meals a day and snacks. They get to be in a supportive and caring environment and the Muskoka Woods staff treat us like royalty! The staff that we’ve been able to interact with through the Muskoka Woods Youth Foundation, and all the experiences that are planned for us, allow us as leaders time to spend with the kids doing these activities or encouraging them as they try activities instead of planning and running and organizing the activities ourselves.
We also find that our youth are more open to the gospel during our week at Muskoka Woods. There’s just something about being out in nature, in God’s creation, that just lends itself to talking about his power and love and grace and mercy. It really is a special place.
Can you recall a success story or special moment from your week at camp?
A lot of our kids that we’ve brought up over the years have some exceptional needs. Whether that is mental health issues, social issues, or issues surrounding autism or ADD. The Muskoka Woods staff is very patient and accommodating and supportive. We had one young man with us last year, who had never been outside of his own city. Summer camp was a brand new experience for him. He’s on the autism spectrum, has some significant challenges socially and I think comes from a situation of significant poverty at home. We were wondering how he was going to be able to handle a week like this with so many transitions, and being so far away from home.
At first, he was hoarding food. It was tough to see him do this. It opened up a chance to connect with him about his situation at home and having enough to eat, and that he didn’t need to worry about that up here. He was fully engaged in all of the activities. He was also very generous towards others with his tuck money on his bracelet. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen this usually solemn kid smile as much as he did when we were at Muskoka Woods. He was having new experiences, being supported by peers, having plenty to eat, and being accepted for who he is — and he absolutely thrived that week. When I think about Muskoka Woods, I think of all the great activities we get to do in the amazing Timbergrove Lodge accommodations. I never thought much about the fact that the week of camp at Muskoka Woods is significant because our kids get three meals a day, which we all tend to take for granted.
As a youth group leader, what was your favourite part of the Muskoka Woods summer camp experience?
My favourite part of the camping experience is our group time every night before bed, where we talk about our challenges and our highlights for the day. It leads to some great discussions and breakthroughs in relationships. A highlight of those conversations is when the challenge they chose is actually their highlight as well. Our kids definitely change and grow through their time at Muskoka Woods. I also enjoy taking two or three kids down to the dock with my fishing rods and just having those extra little conversations while I’m teaching them how to fish. Those times are very special to me, as I am able to connect a little more personally with the kids that like to come down fishing with me.
In your opinion, why should people give to the Muskoka Woods Youth Foundation?
Their donations change lives. The week that we get to come up to Muskoka Woods is the highlight of my year for all the reasons that I have mentioned above. You are not just giving kids an amazing week at camp with lots of experiences that are fun and entertaining. For some kids, you are giving them relief from their home situation. For some kids, you are providing regular meals. For some kids, you’re providing a space where they will not be dragged down, or beaten down, but rather lifted up, encouraged, and able to experience the love of Jesus, in a very practical, natural and intentional way.
Your gifts change the course of lives for young people who attend Summer Camp. The investment you make not only creates new opportunities and possibilities for them, but will echo through generations as they return home and influence their friends and family. Give today.