Illinois News

Volunteers rely on faith, fundraising to save Jensen Woods

The Jensen Woods Camp isn't open to the public now, but the Jensen Camp Foundation wants to change that.
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 30, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Jun. 30, 2018 11:41 pm

TIMEWELL, Ill. -- Heading into the final month of fundraising to buy the Jensen Woods Camp near Timewell, Gretchen Forsythe continues to focus on a Bible verse.

"This all along has been a journey of faith," said Forsythe, president of the Jensen Camp Foundation. "Matthew 17:20 says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, nothing is impossible."

Volunteers' faith to take on the seemingly impossible task of continuing the mission of the camp, which had been sold and was slated for demolition, has raised about half the $500,000 needed by the end of July for the first phase of a $1.9 million campaign to buy, operate and endow the camp for the next 100 years.

"I get checks every day, but I think people are waiting to see if this will happen," Forsythe said. "This is going to happen."

A June 23 celebration at the Adams County Fairgrounds brought in $32,000 and counting a day after the Federated Church in Clayton announced a $50,000 donation. A lemonade stand in Mount Sterling, spearheaded by a 9-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother, raised more than $100 to make sure every little kid gets to go to camp.

"There is no such thing as too small or too large," Forsythe said. "We got a check from Quincy last week for $2, and we were thrilled to get that and also thrilled to get the $50,000 donation. They go a long way to move us toward where we need to be."

Fundraisers planned in July include a July 14 ATV/UTV ride at Ruffcorn Park in Loraine and a July 21 trap shoot at the Paloma shelter. The foundation is at the Schuyler County Fair this week and will be at the Adams County Fair at the end of July. It also continues to speak with organizations to boost awareness of the camp and the fundraising effort.

"We're up to 31 counties in Illinois where we have supporters, campers, or donors or people who have done something for the camp foundation," Forsythe said. "That's almost a third of the state."

In the meantime, the foundation continues to make plans for the camp's future, including a faith garden featuring a reclining cross to honor donors giving $550, or a penny a day during the campaign, or $3,450 to represent an acre of the 550-acre camp.

The Illinois Great River Conference of the United Methodist Church closed and agreed to sell three of its five campsites, including Jensen Woods, in June 2015 because of a dwindling head count and to concentrate resources in fewer facilities.

After three years of negotiations with the foundation, the conference sold the camp to a St. Louis developer in March. The sale closed on March 20, and the next morning, Forsythe's phone rang with the caller saying he'd just learned about the foundation and asking what its plans were for the camp.

Her explanation – to buy the site to offer a nondenominational Christian camp for children in West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa – led to nine days of negotiations and a purchase agreement signed on Good Friday that launched the effort to raise funds and boost awareness of Jensen Woods.

"We've done a lot of work, but we've got a lot more work to do," Forsythe said.

While the foundation has big plans for the camp, Forsythe stresses that Jensen Woods is not open now to the public.

"The camp will not be open until we get the $500,000 and close," she said. "We are keeping fingers and toes crossed to get everything cleaned up and back in working order to have an open house for the general public in September."

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