Laura Hutler, Equestrian Coordinator at Wesley Woods United Methodist Camp, has received the Distinguished Service Award through the Great Rivers chapter of the American Camp Association. This award is presented to an individual who has given “outstanding and distinguished service” to a camping program within the Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri area.
Laura was nominated by a group of camping professionals within the Midwest who recognized the value of the work that she has done this past year during the challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic. Laura says that receiving an award such as this one is very humbling. “This is what I’m called to do and while I don’t ever seek recognition, I’m honored to be recognized by my peers in the American Camp Association.”
Laura enjoys working with youth and horses the most. To stay engaged with people who were unable to be on site during the pandemic, Laura arranged Tic-Tac-Toe games with ponies and kids over Zoom. “We were gifted a large tic-tac-toe board by longtime Wesley Woods volunteer Bill Tomlinson,” says Laura. “The ponies pick a spot on the game board to start and a human helper arranges the pieces accordingly based on what the kids pick. There’s been a few times when Peppin (one of the camp ponies) beats the kids, but most of the time he lets the kids win.”
This past year, Laura did over 500 individual lessons out of the Wesley Woods Equestrian Center. She also has arranged partnerships with local mental health professionals and assisted in 112 equine assisted psychotherapy sessions. In addition, Laura has coordinated over 2,000 hours worth of volunteer time to make sure that the Equestrian Program can be a place where Christ is shared to youth and adults. “Teaching Christ through horses is such a wonderful and unique outreach for the Iowa United Methodist Church.”
Laura is in her third year as a staff person at Wesley Woods after serving at United Methodist Camps in Wisconsin and Y Camps in Arizona. She has been a camping professional for over 30 years. Looking ahead to this upcoming year, Laura is most excited about having youth back on site in the summer. “Having kids at camp is really exciting. After a challenging year due to the pandemic, having youth on-site camp will feel great!”
Iowa United Methodist Camps are registering for on-site youth camps this summer (www.iaumc.org/camps
). Thanks to the support of many, no young person is ever turned away for financial reasons. For more information about Wesley Woods programs check out the Wesley Woods website at www.wesleywoodsiowa.org