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Ask Kim 3 – Subscribe and Test: A Tribe Called Camp Quest


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/11/26

Kim Newton, M.Litt. is the Executive Director of Camp Quest Inc. (National Support Center). We will learn some more about Camp Quest in an educational series.

Here we talk about major supports and networks for the US wing of Camp Quest, the impacts of different demographics on the functioning of Camp Quest, and financial barriers and overcoming them, and the concrete points of contact in the mission of Camp Quest.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What have been the major supports and networks helping to build the US wing of Camp Quest?

Kim Newton: Our success has been due to the hardworking volunteers who run our programs and who dedicate themselves to advancing our mission in new locations. Our network has grown through the relationships and friendships that our campers and volunteers form at camp year after year. We’ve been fortunate to have some support from other secular organizations, particularly the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky (which founded the first camp in 1996), as well as the Institute for Humanist Studies, the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, and others. Overall, however, we rely primarily on the generosity of individual donors to sustain our year-round operations.

Edwin and Helen Kagin were our founding camp directors and were both members of the Free Inquiry Group. The idea to offer a summer camp program designed for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other freethinking families originated partially in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s increasing enforcement of their policy requiring boys to profess a belief in God.  It became clear that children from nontheistic families needed their own place to belong and enjoy the summer camp experience.

The desire to expand prompted Camp Quest in 2000 to incorporate independent of the Free Inquiry Group, with Fred Edwords, former executive director of the American Humanist Association, serving as the first president.  Over the next several years the Institute for Humanist Studies awarded grants to support the formation of new Camp Quest camps. These new camps were independently operated, but were based on the same mission as the original. We now have camps in 13 states and last summer served 1055 campers. We’ve reached over 10,000 campers served by Camp Quest in our history, which I think is pretty amazing.

Jacobsen: What have been the impacts on different ethnic, educational, and sex-gender demographics with Camp Quest in America?

Newton: The national conversation about diversity and inclusion in the US has, overall, taken a dark turn in recent years in my opinion. This is deeply upsetting to me because, from my Humanist perspective, I want to see a society that accepts and welcomes all people, regardless of their ethnicity, country of origin, gender identity or sexual orientation. Camp Quest has always been a community that is welcoming of differences, whether that is a difference of opinion or belief, or of life experience. As an educational nonprofit, we encourage campers to interact with people from different backgrounds; this is how we help grow empathy and compassion, which I think is sorely needed in these divisive times. In the past several years, gender diversity and inclusion has come to the forefront of our program values, and most of our locations now offer gender inclusive cabins. I think a driving motivator of this is the current generation of campers, who generally view their gender and sexuality as being a significant part of their identity. Camp Quest has already helped to make our society more welcoming and accepting of people who are nonreligious, and our goal is to continue that as well as to make society a more welcoming place for all.

Jacobsen: Does finance present a barrier to participation? How is this being overcome because poor people may be restricted in secular activities for the youth?

Newton: Financial assistance is available for families, and many camps offer early bird and sibling discounts. We try to keep registration costs very low. In fact our average registration cost is less than $600, which is half the average cost for weeklong overnight camps nationwide. We recognize that not all families can or want to send their children to overnight camp, so we’re also exploring ways to expand our reach through day camps and other programs. If you are interested in helping to start a Camp Quest in your area, we want to hear from you! Please write to us at

Jacobsen: The mission of the organization: “Camp Quest provides an educational adventure shaped by fun, friends and freethought, featuring science, natural wonder and humanist values.” How does this become incorporated into the general work with the kids and the training of the leaders of Camp Quest?

Newton: Each of our camps offer activities that directly correlate to our mission in some way, whether they are offering science activities, nature hikes, having discussions in our Socrates Cafe or Famous Freethinkers™ programs, or just spending time making friends and having fun! Every day at Camp Quest is a day that our mission is being put into action and is being experienced by each and every camper. 

Camp volunteers commit many hours to training, both through online videos, as well as in-person training conducted at our camp sites. We are very lucky in that many of our volunteers are highly skilled experts in their fields; some are school teachers, others are scientists, engineers, and other types of professionals who bring their experience to Camp Quest by developing unique and innovative activities.

In one activity this summer, campers had the opportunity to write letters of support (or objection) to their local government and nonprofit leaders about issues they care about. This is one example of how we are helping kids discover that they have the personal agency and responsibility to make a difference in their communities and the world. Acting upon our humanist values is a key component of what Camp Quest is all about. You can learn more about Camp Quest at, where you can sign up for information about our camps, volunteer, or donate to support our mission.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Kim.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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