Many organizations were facing a hazy future after the 2022 Nebraska National Forest fire swallowed the 4-H camp. Groups like the Nebraska Rural Electric Association called the State 4-H camp home to their Youth Energy Leadership Camp for the past 42 years. In what could have been the beginning of the end, a spark of hope emerged.
Camp Comeca, located about 100 miles south of the Nebraska National Forest, is a non-denominational Christian camp and retreat center near Cozad. Executive Director Justin Hoehner remembers when he first heard the news of the fire.
“I knew that these displaced camps would need a landing space, and I wanted to be sure that there was no loss in camps,” Justin said. “I cancelled some of our future programming for the 2023 summer season to open space for others.”
Outside groups wishing to host a camp or retreat at Camp Comeca typically schedule two years in advance. Within a month of the fire, the NREA settled on Camp Comeca as its new host in 2023. Its central location within the state and proximity to tour Gerald Gentleman Station and the Kingsley Dam were considered beneficial.
“Their facilities are well-maintained and offer us the opportunity to continue teaching young people about the electric utility industry in Nebraska,” said NREA Public Affairs Director Wayne Price. “They have a full-size swimming pool and a basketball facility that will allow us to offer different activities to campers. The staff has been extremely helpful as we work to develop our camp itinerary in the new location.”
“We’re excited for the opportunity to serve NREA’s camp,” said Amy Hoehner, Camp Comeca Development Coordinator. “We recognize that the 4-H camp was like coming home for so many groups and organizations, and there will be a mourning period. Our goals are to provide a positive experience and welcome these groups with open arms.”
Both Justin and Amy have a deep understanding of the lasting impact a summer camp or retreat can have on people. The Nebraska natives met while working at a Christian camp in Texas. Later, they moved to California, got married and were expecting their first child.
“We started praying for an opportunity to be closer to home,” Amy said. “Then Camp Comeca became a part of our story in 2017.”
Established in 1950, Camp Comeca was originally an acronym for Cozad Methodist Camp. For the first 40 years the camp mainly hosted summer camps. A few cabins were built on the campus to host overnight guests. In the 1990s, the Wilson Foundation made a generous contribution that helped Camp Comeca shift its focus to provide space for camps and retreats year-round. An indoor swimming pool, gym and hotel-style lodging were built.
As the years went by, the camp’s overhead costs were rising and the number of visitors declined. It was difficult for the nonprofit to afford the camp despite several efforts. The camp was sold to the Cozad Camping Ministry in April 2020. The newly formed nonprofit reintroduced the camp as non-denominational. The name Comeca remained, but this time with a new meaning: “Christ Over Me Camp.”
As the 2023 summer camp season approaches, Camp Comeca is preparing for large groups that it hasn’t seen in years.
“We’re experiencing a period of growth at Camp Comeca,” Amy said. “It’s exciting to be a part of the story now as it is still being written.”
In 2022, Camp Comeca hosted 3,700 guests and 120 groups. It is estimated that the camp will accommodate an additional 1,200 guests and 50 new groups in 2023.
“The vision is not to stay still,” Amy said. “We’re excited to see where the Lord leads us next on new ways to reach people.”
“It felt like building a new camp when we first came in 2017,” Justin added. “Many buildings were underutilized. Now, we’re outgrowing our space. We’re excited to see what the future holds for Camp Comeca.”
Youth Energy Leadership Camp Applications Due April 28
Youth Energy Leadership Camp
July 9-13 at Camp Comeca
Dawson PPD will sponsor up to three teens to attend
Application deadline: April 28
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