Camp Sunflower Provides a Place for LGBTQ+ Youth to Soar

In 2018, Camp Sunflower launched in Wichita, Kansas to serve as a safe place for young people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to connect with others, develop leadership skills, and learn coping and advocacy skills.

Born out of Pine Valley Christian Church, members decided to host a three-day camping experience for LGBTQ+ high school-aged teenagers in the Wichita community. Finn Lanning, the director of the camp, who has been there from the beginning, along with other community members wanted to offer this experience to LGBTQ+ youth in the area so they’d have a place to safely be themselves. During the year of the camp’s inaugural experience, he wrote “Living in a politically conservative state, there tends to be greater stigma and fewer resources available for LGBTQ+ youth, putting them at even higher risk than in other geographical areas.”

That first three-day experience allowed bold visions to blossom. Since then, the camp has operated every summer, expanding its staff and capacity to invite more LGBTQ+ youth to the dedicated campsite in the Wichita area.

Six years later, Camp Sunflower continues to grow and seek new ways to support LGBTQ+ youth. The organization has been a recipient of several NBA Mission & Ministry Grants, expanded its programming to include LGBTQ+ middle schoolers from across the Midwest, and became an NBA Incubate Partner in 2022.

“Camp Sunflower is excited to be in partnership with the National Benevolent Association to further our shared goal of advocating for underserved communities by creating affirming and welcoming spaces for LGBTQ+ youth to build community, develop leadership and activism skills, and improve outcomes for these vulnerable young people,” says Lanning.

Recently, NBA’s Social Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator, Rev. Ashley Mayham, and NBA Trustee Wanda Scott visited Camp Sunflower during an exciting week of events for the campers. Scott served on the Reading Team that interviewed candidates for NBA’s 2022 Incubate Partners. Through that experience, she was able to have a personal insight and investment in helping select Camp Sunflower as a Partner. Considering that experience, the Social Entrepreneurship team was thrilled to have her attend this site visit. While there, they took a tour of the campgrounds, spent time with the 40+ campers in attendance, and even got to witness a talent show and “Cirque Du So-Gay” carnival the campers planned.

Throughout the year, the Social Entrepreneurship team spends time on the road visiting several Incubate Partners and SENT Cohort members. During the height of the pandemic, this practice had to be paused, but as travel has opened back up, the social entrepreneurship team has made every effort to visit each of our Incubate Partners!

Site visits give staff a chance to see a partner’s programming in action, meet their team and board, have conversations about organizational needs, and—if in a city where there are other partners or Cohort Members reside—allow for a networking meal with everyone, including Regional Ministers. This is essential to NBA’s mission and core values as well as an important aspect of accompanying our partners and strengthening our connection to them.

“This visit felt particularly special for several reasons. We’ve been connected to Camp Sunflower for years as Mission & Ministry Grant Recipients, 2019 SENT Seminar Participants (our precursor to the Cohort Model), and now as Incubate Partners. This visit left me inspired and invigorated because I could see first-hand how crucial this organization’s services are,” Mayham reflected. “I heard from dozens of campers and counselors about the impact of the safe relationships forged and the esteeming transformation that takes place in campers. As a queer person myself, I get emotional thinking about what a camp like this would have provided to the younger me: and I want that for all LGBTQ+ kids. To have even a small part in Camp Sunflower’s story is such an honor.”

As the summer comes to a close, Camp Sunflower’s work will continue. The organization holds a smaller winter program with similar goals to their summer camps and will begin to prepare for that. Meanwhile, NBA’s Social Entrepreneurship team will host its annual SENT Seminar in September for individuals discerning if a social entrepreneurship journey is for them. The team is also accepting applications for our SENT Cohort, a 12-month journey that introduces social entrepreneurs to a cohort of innovative leaders and will provide them with a tailored curriculum to help launch their projects. Learn more about NBA’s programmatic work with social entrepreneurship at

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