Regardless of whether you’re running a business, non-profit organization, community rummage sale or parish fish fry, it’s guaranteed that everyone is feeling the effects of the now infamous recession. The youth retreat center TYME OUT (Total Youth Ministry Experience Openness Understanding Trust) announced this past January the elimination of some of its summer camp programs, in an effort to re-evaluate its mission statement and better serve the community. Many changes have been made since that time.
Ben Brzeski has been the executive director for TYME OUT for the past three years, and while he acknowledges that suspending some of their summer camps began as a financial move, it quickly became a focus on their ministry efforts to pursue the most effective means of mission delivery.
“There is certainly no question that in this economy that’s part of the reality,” Brzeski explained in a phone interview with your Catholic Herald, Jan. 29. “Going, OK, if we can only do six things, if we can only do five things, what are those five things?” Deciding what benefits the community the most became such a major challenge that a committee was formed to take on the daunting task. A mixture of business and ministry professionals, a School Sister of Notre Dame liaison, and others made up the well-rounded group.
“The board charged a committee with reviewing the whole of our program, and said, look, we want you to take a look at everything that we’re doing, and identify the areas that are sort of our foundation – our bedrock – and help us to recognize what those are and make sure that we preserve and strengthen those, to identify what’s emerging,” he explained. The committee studied a review of attendance and financial trends to come to the decision that a change had to be made. According to Brzeski, TYME OUT decided to make the change a positive one.
“What we’ve done is, as an organization, kind of took a look at our mission and we’re in the process of looking at – given who we are, what our mission is and what the unique gifts that we have to offer the community – looking at that and then going, OK, what are the activities that we’re best positioned?
“That’s where we should be focusing our resources, our efforts, so in doing that we made the decision to restructure what our summer would look like,” Brzeski added.
After a few months of planning and engaging close to 100 individuals within the youth ministry community, they discovered the key ways in which their summer would formulate.
“We’re offering summer retreat programming, and that includes confirmation retreats on our bookings, we’ve got a family retreat, leadership retreat, and we’re also offering for parishes taking kids on mission trips, we’re offering to do either a pre-mission trip retreat day or overnight, or a post-mission trip retreat, or overnight,” he explained. “This will give them a chance to do some reflection or preparation before going out.”
TYME OUT also offers the youth facility for day or overnight rental to groups, as well as offering their own staff as a way to help parishes “update” their own programming.
“One of the things we heard about from the groups we spoke to was, ‘Hey, we love coming to you, we love the opportunity to take a retreat at your center, but we find it helpful to have programming come to us,’” he said. Taking their programming expertise off-site and bringing it to parishes proved to be a fruitful venture.
“While we continue to advocate for parishes’ visits and groups making the retreats off-site – not at their parish – we are going to be bringing day programs and two-hour workshops that we can take to the parishes off-site to them, where they don’t have to book a bus,” he said, adding that they will also be taking the time to update their facility to keep the “welcome environment” going.
In addition to being the primary retreat center for confirmation preparation, TYME OUT also offers relationship retreats, character development programming, social justice retreats and a youth nternship program for college-aged adults interested in considering some aspect of youth ministry. According to Brzeski, their summer programming served only 3 percent of their yearly visitors, which was why summer programming was one of the first to be examined.
“What are the emerging needs in youth ministry that we are either partially meeting or aren’t meeting at all, given who we are and where our expertise lie, and identify what things or activities we are doing right now that maybe aren’t quite as central to our mission, or don’t undermine the mission if we were to divest of that,” Brzeski explained about what the committee examined.
School Sister of Notre Dame Joanne Armatowski, the liaison to TYME OUT, which SSND sponsors, said reducing their summer camps was the most logical thing to do.
“It was a very difficult decision, but we went through a process with a facilitator, we had a subcommittee with board members who are very committed and interested in TYME OUT, and as we work through the process of looking at what programs were sustainable and what were the programs that we were really paying out more money than we were receiving,” she explained.
“What we also realized is that our confirmation retreats were something that were really unique to TYME OUT, and one of the pieces is that our confirmation retreats are during the course of what we would call the school year, and there were and are requests for possibilities,” she said, adding that conducting summer confirmation retreats was a future possibility.
While many of their summer programs have been suspended indefinitely, there are a few which will remain, one such being the summer “Grandparents and Grandkids” program.
“We provide a space where the grandparents can really connect with their grandkids about matters of family,” Brzeski explained about the overnight program. The unique aspect of the program was just one reason why they decided to keep that particular program going.
“That’s what we’re looking at now,” he said. “What do we do uniquely, and let’s focus on that.”
“It’s such an excellent place for either youth or family activities,” Brzeski explained. “It’s so youth-friendly, it’s very family-friendly, we have a couple parishes that do a family retreat towards the end of the summer, so they found our space to be a really nice place to do that. So those are the kinds of things that we’re continuing to pursue during the summer.
“We conducted a dialogue process with some of our key constituents – youth ministers, parish youth ministry professionals, campus ministers, Catholic educators, as well as supporters of our ministry. We conducted a broad dialogue and really asked a couple of key questions,” Brzeski explained. In the November 2009 survey taken by ministry leaders within the Milwaukee Archdiocese, questions such as youth ministry wants and needs were asked.
“Let’s see what the world is saying to us, the needs that we hear out there, then let’s take stock of who we are and what we do best, find where the partnerships are, and move forward,” he explained of their follow up process.
“There’s no question that these are challenging times for ministries, for parishes, for non-profits,” he said. “But it does offer the opportunity for some self-reflection, some self-evaluation, and going, ‘OK, what is God calling for here?’ That’s essentially the root of what we’re trying to do.”
“It’s a new time. We’ve been doing this for 30 years and doing it well. The overwhelming level of affirmation of what we do and how important this ministry is to the archdiocese” is plain to see, Brzeski added. “We want to continue offering this ministry for another 30 years plus. How do we adjust to the current environment and how do we pay attention to the signs of the time, and adapt?”
While Brzeski believes that their move to cancel some summer programming was the right thing to do at this time, he has received some e-mail from people expressing their disappointment. Most, however, have understood.
“Any decision like this is challenging because you know it affects people. We’ve gotten some feedback from previous years participants, asking a little bit about what will be offered, or can you help us find another option. The good news is, yes, we can … we’re really happy to help families – previous campers – find another option that fits.”