Recognizing Our Volunteers!

By Sandi Gonzalez

Kingswood Camper and Volunteer Julie Wityk

Julie Wityk has been coming to Kingswood since 1984, when she was in her 20s and joined Pastor Karpen (aka Pastor K) and the young adults’ group from St. Peter St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Manhattan. Her first impression? She recalls being astonished by the pristine, undeveloped open space, and pleased to be sleeping on a cot rather than the ground! That first weekend there was something for everyone; campfires, hiking, canoeing, cooking and companionship. Julie came to Kingswood several more times with Pastor K and the young adults, even falling in love here.

While Julie had met her future husband, Felipe Sanchez, at church, she got to know him at Kingswood. They arrived one weekend as acquaintances and left as a couple. In the ensuing years, Kingswood became a family touchstone for Julie and Felipe. They visited Kingswood at least annually as a couple, and it soon became the family vacation destination.

Julie remembers that having a family changed the Kingswood experience. Soon after their youngest, Allison, was born, they booked a campsite in Orchard. And they were blown away! They were thrilled that they could let the kids run around and didn’t need to be on top of them. They delighted as Allison chased butterflies and celebrated when Nicholas lost his first tooth eating a bagel on the prayer trail.  Julie feels that as city parents, Kingswood allowed them to give their children an experience of freedom; being outside all day, trusting the landscape and the neighbors, going to bed with the sun. The family come to Kingswood every summer, usually for two weeks at the end of August, and would also rent the farmhouse for a winter weekend and have a wonderful time snowshoeing, sledding and hiking.

They were family campers during the years Ginny Stevenson was Program Director and credit her with teaching the children camping skills and teaching her and Felipe parenting skills. The children participated in Woodsmoke camp as well, honing not just camping craft but developing carpentry skills, social and cooperative skills, and even learning to cook! 

Julie become a Kingswood volunteer in 2006, joining a cadre of dedicated campers – some active as volunteers for 40 years!   With her strong administrative and organizational skill set, Julie become indispensable to Kingswood as the Program Director for Woodsmoke camp. She kept the camp running for 11 years as registrar, fundraiser, personnel director and her favorite job, meal coordinator! 

Soon, Julie branched out from Woodsmoke to become a Site Committee member and to participate in work weekends. This all meant that the family was at Kingswood a lot more, and everyone loved it. Although Woodsmoke camp no longer runs, Julie continues to be involved with work weekends and provides behind the scenes administrative support. The family continues to come up the last week of August celebrating Labor Day weekend with Kingswood friends. Last year her daughter Allison, who learned to swim in Hathaway Pond, was the camp Lifeguard.

Despite the difficulties of making plans for this summer due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Julie feels that Kingswood is the best possible place to be with her family this coming season. With so much space Kingswood provides the ability to social distance and will allow families unfettered vacation days. Julie calls Kingswood “a hidden gem, you have got to be here to understand and once you are you fall head over heels.” She adds, “we’ve lost respect for the earth. The Kingswood experience is so important to have, and so important for our children to experience… I hope it lasts forever.”