Prior to 1961, the annual Christian Reformed Bible Conference held in Mount Hermon was primarily an adult affair. There were, however, "Young People's activities," as they were called, which included discussions conducted by either local ministers or guest ministers who served as speakers for the adult meetings. Recreational activities were also scheduled for some afternoons and evenings. Participants included high school age and older singles. Pete Duyst was asked to provide leadership in 1960.
At a meeting of the Christian Reformed Mount Hermon Board the following winter, Pete Duyst suggested that along with inviting ministers as speakers for the adult conference, an additional minister be invited to spend the entire week with high school students. (The CR Mount Hermon Board that year included: Rein Groen, San Jose; Paul Hoekenga, Alameda; George Hollander, Ripon I; Hiram Pasma, Ripon Immanuel; Larry Tos, Hanford; Chester Veldstra, Escalon and Henry Veneman Sr., Modesto) Paul Hoekenga suggested a program which could be patterned after Mount Hermon's high school camps. He took active leadership in not only influencing members of the board, but promoting and establishing contact with Bill Gwinn who at that time was the Executive Director of the Mount Hermon Association. Bill Gwinn's response was not only encouraging but enthusiastic. He said that the leaders at Mount Hermon had been waiting and were anxious for the Christian Reformed week to include a more complete program for young people. He assured complete support and assistance in planning and organizing.
Upon hearing of Mount Hermon's encouragement and support, the CR Mount Hermon Board decided to include a high school camp during the week of the Christian Reformed Family Conference. Pete Duyst was to serve as director with Bill Gwinn providing support and mentoring. Paul Hoekenga coined the name "Hi-Camp."
One hundred nine (109) high school students registered for the first annual CR Hi-Camp in 1961.
Registration went from 109 to 156 to over 180 in the first three years. From 1961 to 1968, Hi-Camp was held at the Conference Center. Group meetings were held in Forest Hall, and campers, with their counselors, were housed in facilities including Oak, Maple, Madrone, Pine, Fir, and Laurel.
Beginning in 1962, Jack Andriese Sr. served for several years as Staff Counselor providing mature, spiritual leadership. Laverne "Shorty" Beuving served as director in 1964 & '65. Pete Duyst resumed the position in 1966, (That year Pete also directed one of Mount Hermon's high school camps. He also directed an Evangelical Free high school camp in 1969. One could conclude that those two camps made up for the two Hi-Camps missed because of summer school attendance.)
In 1969, the CR Hi-Camp was held for the first time at the newly constructed Ponderosa Lodge. It was the first full week camp at the new facilities. One hundred sixty-eight campers could now be accommodated in the twenty-four cabins, each of which housed seven campers and a counselor. Ponderosa Lodge has proven to be a well designed facility for a counselor centered camp.
In 1986, a new position was added to the Hi-Camp staff. The "Program Director" took over the up-front leadership and planned most of the afternoon and evening activities. Steve Duyst served in that position beginning that year and in subsequent years provided increasingly more leadership in planning the program portion of the week.
For youth in the nineties, videos were an established element in their life style so beginning in 1994, another position was added to the staff. The videographer assumed the responsibility of producing a camp video.
Ponderosa Lodge had built a climbing tower and in 1997 a ropes course, skate park with half pipe and mountain bike course were added.
Because the Christian Reformed Family Conference ceased to adequately use the facilities at the Conference Center, beginning in 2005 they were absorbed into the first of many summer camps conducted by Mount Hermon each summer. Those camps begin on Sunday evening. Consequently, Hi-Camp switched to the traditional Mount Hermon schedule of beginning camp on Sunday late afternoon and ending on Saturday morning. That schedule was adopted in 2006.
"Christian Reformed Hi-Camp", or "CR Hi-Camp", was an appropriate title or name for many years since it was sponsored by the Christian Reformed Churches of Northern and Central California. Now “Hi-Camp” has become the commonly used name. Beginning in the 80’s, more and more students from Tulare Community Church began to participate. TCC (a part of the Reformed Churches in America denomination) has become a supporting church, as has Pipeline, a TCC church plant located in Visalia. Those two churches and some of the CR Churches take offerings to provide financial support. Many youth groups in these supporting churches do money raising activities to assist their students in paying the Hi-Camp fee. Not all students attending Hi-Camp are from supporting churches, nor are staff members for that matter. Also, students come from both public schools & Christian schools.
Hi-Camp is not a convention or a conference. Many conventions and conferences are large gatherings that tend to be speaker centered. Hi-Camp, on the other hand, is counselor and activity centered. The seven to one ratio of campers and counselor results in frequent contact between each student and their counselor. Because of that fact, and the 100% involvement in all activities by those who attend, every student can feel a part of what is going on.
The purpose for the existence of Hi-Camp has remained constant throughout the years. Hi-Camp exists to provide students with a fresh and fuller perspective of who Jesus is and what Christianity is and what it is not.
To accomplish that goal, Hi-Camp provides an environment that is positive and free of legalism. There is a balance between fun activities and times of focusing on the spiritual dimension of life. Students are provided with an opportunity to respond to Christ’s claim on their life.
The staff is intentional in being agents of change, remembering that affective youth ministry is relational. Christian camps provide the staff with numerous opportunities to relate with students and seize opportunities to impact lives.
The complete history of Hi-Camp can only be told by God himself. Only he knows which lives were impacted and whose faith journey began and/or was enhanced during their week at Hi-Camp. Only he knows what purposes of his were accomplished for his glory.