Camp Sunflower’s Experience at 2019 SENT Seminar

Campers at Camp Sunflower, 2018Campers at Camp Sunflower, 2018

The NBA SENT Seminar equips Social ENTrepreneurs for leadership and change and is a primary component of our Incubate Initiative. The four-day seminar is designed for Disciples-affiliated leaders and leadership teams who are starting new health and social services ministries. SENT covers the basics of nonprofit ministry startups, as well as skills for leadership and innovation across inter-connected, cross-cultural, and faith-based communities. This year’s SENT Seminar took place in Scottsdale, Arizona, at The Casa Franciscan Renewal Center from September 11-14, 2019.

CAMP SUNFLOWER is designed to support high school age marginalized and at-risk LGBTQ+ youth due to the high suicide rate of.

During a planning retreat in February 2016, Rev. Carolyn Schwarz led a discussion. She began by saying there was nothing for our transgender youth in the church.  She expressed her idea of a camp to a church member before the planning retreat.  The planning team was receptive to the idea and the President of Mission Council presented the outcome of the planning team to the congregation. The Giving and Mercy team took the action to develop a camp.

During our church 50th anniversary party, $5,000 seed money was raised for the camp.  Additionally, the Kansas Regional Ministers gave the support of this camp by backing it up and giving Camp Sunflower full use of Camp Tawakoni.

After the passing of Pastor Carolyn, the project was put on hold.  With much prayer and deliberation, we knew the project would not go forward unless we made the commitment to see it go forth. Interim Pastor Rev. Dr. David Hansen set us in motion after Dave had presented our mission to him.  He agreed that Camp Sunflower should be developed.  Pastor David helped us begin with our first community meeting involving the Director of GLSEN, two other pastors, Pastor David and us in June 2017.

After several meetings with this group the decision was made that we would develop the camp for high school age LGBTQ+ youth.  Additional people were contacted to form a Steering Committee Board.  In one of our meetings we met Finn Lanning who was traveling through Wichita on his way to direct a camp in Massachusetts.  During this meeting, he showed interest in our project and in being the director of our first camp.

Camp Sunflowers mission statement is “To provide an inclusive and supportive camp and other activities for LGBTQ+ and gender diverse youth.” Our programming is developed around these four outcomes: Sense of Safety, Self-Knowledge, Connection and Learning Leadership Skills.

Since 2017, we have held two summer camps in 2018 and 2019 serving 34 youth.  In 2018 the campers came from the greater Wichita area and in 2019 they came from the state of Kansas and Oklahoma.

We thank the National Benevolent Association for their support with grants in 2017 and 2018. We became incorporated in May 2019 and In July 25, 2019 we received our 501(c) 3 status. On October 21, 2019 we held our first Annual Meeting with a dinner and invited guests that includes parents of campers, community leaders, and church members.

We appreciated the invitation to attend the 2019 NBA Incubate SENT Seminar.   There was a lot of valuable information to digest in three days.  It is one of the best we have attended. During the three days, we were challenged to think about the WHY of our project.  At first, we thought this would be a piece of cake, but it was not so.  We still look at this to make sure our program meets the WHY.

Several of the presentations that we looked forward to hearing during the seminar were fundraising, marketing, and legal.  Since receiving our 501(c)3 we were reminded of our responsibility of this status and the many ramifications that could be overlooked by our board.  During the Communication Planning we soon realized that we needed to develop a better communication plan that all board members could adhere to. As a board, we also need to build broader community partnerships and how we approach potential board members to join the board.  The ideas and input from the other participants as well as the opportunity to listen to their stories caused us to think and look at our project in a different light.

The NBA Incubate SENT Seminar Staff was great.  Their support before and during the seminar showed their passion for this activity and the churches passion for Social Justice.

As the health and social services general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the National Benevolent Association partners with congregations, regions, general ministries, and a variety of Disciples-related health and social service providers to create communities of compassion and care. Founded in 1887 by six women responding to the needs of the day and on their doorsteps, for more than 130 years the NBA has continued to serve “the least of these.” Learn more at