Camp Quest is the first residential summer camp in the history of the United States for children of Atheists and other non-believers. It was founded in 1996 on a concept created by Edwin Kagin. Edwin is a minister’s son, a lawyer, an Eagle Scout, and is now the National Legal Director for American Atheists. This training and experience made him uniquely qualified for creating and directing such a camp. Edwin was outraged that the Boy Scouts of American refused to admit atheist boys to membership or camping activities.
Edwin introduced his idea in 1995 at a national freethought gathering in New York. He then brought the idea to the Free Inquiry Group (FIG) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Several FIG members enthusiastically embraced the concept, and a committee of volunteers from FIG worked hard to set up this most unique experience.
The first session was held in Kentucky, in camp grounds rented from a fundamentalist Baptist church. Edwin was the first camp director, and he so served for ten consecutive and successful years. His wife Helen Kagin, who died February 17, 2010, was the registrar from 1998 until the Kagins retired from Camp Quest following the conclusion of the camp’s tenth continuous year.
Helen’s enthusiasm and hard work in the overall planning and execution of the Camp Quest concept was so significant that she is correctly remembered as a co-founder.
Before the Kagins retired from Camp Quest, they helped to transition their vision into a national non-profit organization uncontrolled by any other organization. A Board of Directors was created, and management of the camp was successfully transferred to staff members the Kagins had chosen and trained.
The motto of Camp Quest is “Its Beyond Belief.” Edwin defined “Quest” as “Question; Understand; Explore; Search; Test.”
Camp Quest is a nightlight in a dark and scary room for the children of freethought. When asked what she had learned at Camp Quest, a young camper said she had learned it was okay not to believe in god. She did not know that before. She did not say she had learned there is no god, for such is not taught at Camp Quest. Campers have cried while confiding that the camp is the first place they have ever felt free to share their lack of belief without being threatened, ridiculed, or injured in places like their schools.
There are two invisible unicorns at Camp Quest and a prize of a godless $100 bill for any camper who can prove they are not there. The prize remains unclaimed.
There are now ten Camp Quests in the United States, one in Canada, three in England, one each in Ireland and in Norway. We seem to have reached critical mass. Details can be found at www.campquest.org .
Staff members, who are not paid, and who come from all over the world at their own expense are asked in their recruitment “Do you have something more important to do this summer?”
Edwin Kagin (c) 2012