Driftless Gems

Editor’s Note: Driftless Gems is a new monthly column celebrating the nonprofit arts, culture, humanities and nature organizations that make our region unique. If you would like to showcase other Driftless Gems, email info@voiceoftherivervalley.org

By Molly Arbogast

A year after my husband suffered a stroke, our family was still recovering. His health had returned almost 100 percent, and while we managed on greatly reduced income, our young son L, just 10 years old when his father became temporarily incapacitated, still struggled with this new normal. It was time for a distraction.

Good friends told us about Camp Woodbrooke and their generous scholarships. We made the most humble request for help that we could muster, and it was rewarded without question. L was camp-bound, looking forward to lots of outdoor time with kids his age — something he’s always cherished.

Located in the rolling hills of Richland Center, Camp Woodbrooke was founded in 1980 by Quakers Jenny and Al Lang. In 2006, operations were transferred to a nonprofit group of like-minded Quakers with the hope of expanding on the Langs’ vision: a small camp with small groups situated in the outdoors and rooted in Quaker traditions of simplicity, harmony, peace, responsibility and equality. Woodbrooke is not a religious camp, but one that hearkens back to times of closer, one-on-one connection, when such values were part and parcel of living in community.

An only child, L did not often get to practice things like cooperative group decision-making. Woodbrooke gave this to him. To say that L loved Camp Woodbrooke would be a huge understatement. It meant the world to him. It was his new favorite place. And over the next few years it became a source not just for a much-needed slow-down, but for new challenges and experiences, and lots of new friends. He always came home a different kid — especially once electronics were a regular part of his life. Camp gave him the opportunity to dial-down and engage one-on-one. Not just with other kids, but with himself.

On the land of a century-old farm, Camp Woodbrooke has scaled-down facilities — open-air cabins, solar-heated shower house and a 100-year-old barn converted to kitchen and dining hall. The pond is spring fed. And the trails are groomed mostly by the feet that roam them every summer. Kids pitch in to clean up in the kitchen or feed the goats and chickens, helping in the organic garden or chopping wood. They learn about local flora and fauna. They make crafts and play games using resources around them. And they take down-time — for naps or reading, drawing or quiet storytelling.

In 2021 L served his second summer as a helper (volunteer junior counselor). While he won’t be back at Woodbrooke in any capacity other than for a visit, it will always be with him. But I will be here. After he’d been a camper for five years I applied for the position of administrative director. It gives me such pride to work for this “Little Engine That Could” organization. Woodbrooke changed my son’s life and in so doing changed mine. I’m thrilled to help other families discover the extended family that is Camp Woodbrooke.

​​For more information about Camp Woodbrooke, see www.campwoodbrooke.org or call (608) 509-7061.