September 01, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Students trained to lead Streetfest by renovating Calvin's Camp Waltman.

Down at the main lodge, overlooking the lake, carpenters were pounding together a new deck, while students hauled away the debris from the old one. Up the dusty path from the cabins came more students, each lugging a load of lumber or a roll of old, red carpet. They threw the detritus into a large dumpster and headed back for more. Elsewhere around the lake, students were spreading sand on the beach, hauling in a swimming dock, renovating a beaver dam, washing cabins, painting cabins and walking the trails with GPS receivers in hand.

“They’re doing fantastic,” said Calvin physical plant administrative assistant Matt Hoekzema.

On Thursday, September 1, the students were scheduled to supervise groups of incoming students in painting, picking up trash, stocking food pantries and other chores at nonprofits throughout Grand Rapids—an annual event known as Streetfest—Calvin’s introduction to service learning.

Training with elbow grease

This year, however, Streetfest was condensed from three days to one, and the service-learning center needed to train three times as many leaders. They decided to partner with Calvin’s physical plant department, keepers of the college’s buildings and grounds. “They were looking for a place to train them all in one shot and get their hands dirty as well,” Hoekzema said.

And on Tuesday, August 30, physical plant unleashed the students on Camp Waltman Lake, 319 acres of forest, lakes, meadows wetlands and buildings donated last year to Calvin.

Hoekzema was supervising a student team ripping the carpet out of the darkened main lodge, and he was thrilled with their progress: “I was hoping to get the carpet out in the three hours we had to work, and, so far, it’s been an hour, and we have the carpet almost done,” he said.

Hoekzema’s team was one of 10 working at the camp.

Another group taking a quick plunge as a break from spreading beach sand at the swimming area. “This was kind of, like, uneven in spots and dark, so we’re making it look more like a beach,” explained senior Tina Herdegen.

Mucking out the dam

Up the trail around the western end of the lake, students were up to their knees and elbows in black muck, dismantling the beaver dam that was wedged into a wooden bridge, turning the stream into a swamp. “What kind of a job is this?” yelled junior Audrey Slotsema over the rumble of the tractor that was dragging a rake through the mud.

“Sixty years from now, you’ll be bringing your grandkids here and saying, ‘This was all wilderness,'” prophesied Gerry Fondse, the interim director of the service-learning center, who was watching from the stream bank. A few minutes later, one of the trail-mapping teams emerged from the woods and showed Fondse the digital map of the camp on their GPS screen. “That is so cool,” he said.

Over at the horse barn, yet another team was using hammers and crowbars on the paddocks. “We’re taking out the fences, first breaking out these long planks and then muscling out the posts they’re attached to. It’s pretty straightforward work and a lot of brute strength,” said senior John Morton.

“I love being up here. It’s just a beautiful piece of God’s creation,” said Donna Joyce, the event coordinator in advancement who was supervising the action at the horse barn. “Just look around; every bit of it is different. I love the cross across the lake. I love the lily pads.”

Student referral

It was Joyce’s daughter, Leigha Oberle, who recommended Calvin as the next owner of the camp, located in Pierson, Mich. Oberle, a Calvin senior, had been attending the camp, then called Brook Cherith Camp, since she was eight years old: “I was a counselor for about three years; I was waterfront director for about two; I was a camper there for about 10,” she said. “Every summer I made new friends and experienced new things … . It was like a second home.”

Oberle was serving on the camp’s board when the nonprofit association that controlled it chose to pass it on. “We were looking for people to take care of the land, and we thought Calvin would be a good fit. We talked to Calvin and they accepted the donation,” she said. The camp amounted to a million-dollar gift for the college, and Oberle sits on one of the committees that oversees its programming.

“Leigha was passionate about what the camp provided in her life, intentional about sharing that with other kids and committed to seeing the camp used for the benefit of God's kingdom into the future,” said Calvin’s director of financial services Sam Wanner, who handled the gift.

Now called Camp Waltman Lake (after the lake), the site will serve the college as both a recreational and retreat area. Even in its unfinished state, the camp has already welcomed groups such as Calvin’s orientation board, advancement division and Project Neighborhood.

“We don’t use tuition dollars to pay for managing operations at the camp,” explained Henry DeVries, Calvin’s vice president for administration, finance and information services. “That’s why days like today are so important,”

Though Calvin’s advancement division has raised some money for upkeep, said DeVries (who was also helping out on Tuesday), Camp Waltman is largely self-sustaining. Besides using volunteer labor for maintenance, the college is also using furniture and carpet recycled from the dorms to furnish the property, he said.

In the late afternoon, DeVries was sitting at a picnic by the waterside as students were returning from cleaning the cabins. Another GPS crew arrived to show off  their data. “To map this place, it is so essential to walk it,” DeVries commented. He called to the trio of students who had just finished pulling apart another logjam on the east side of the lake: “You so won against those beavers!”

“They’ll be back tomorrow!” one girl called back.

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Taking out the fences.

Ripping out the carpet

A trail-mapping crew clowning around

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