Camp Quest was founded in 1996 by a small group of dedicated and energetic people with the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Edwin and Helen Kagin, Ed McAndrews, Elizabeth Oldiges, Nikki Orlemann, and David Scheidt served as members of the original Camp Quest planning committee, with Vern Uchtman as chairperson.
The idea to offer a summer camp program designed for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other freethinking families originated partially in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s increasing enforcement of their policy requiring boys to profess a belief in God. It became clear that children from nontheistic families needed their own place to belong and enjoy the summer camp experience.
The first Camp Quest session, serving 20 campers ages 8-12, was held in Boone County, Kentucky in August of 1996. After meeting in Kentucky for two years, Camp Quest relocated to Ohio in 1998.
Edwin and Helen Kagin served as Camp Directors for the first ten years of the original Camp Quest camp, retiring at the end of the 2005 camp session. Edwin was an eagle scout who became an atheist later in life. Edwin was a lawyer, and served as the National Legal Director for American Atheists until his death in 2014. Helen was an anesthesiologist. In 2010, in memory of Helen, Camp Quest, Inc. established the Helen Kagin Memorial Campership Fund to provide financial aid to families who need assistance paying to register their children for camp.
As the original Camp Quest grew, it expanded to serve teenagers ages 13-17 as well as children 8-12. Campers traveled from across the U.S., as well as from Canada, the UK, Japan, and the Curacao Islands to attend Camp Quest sessions.
Incorporation and Expansion
The desire to expand prompted Camp Quest to incorporate independently of the Free Inquiry Group, with Fred Edwards, former executive director of the American Humanist Association, serving as the first president. Over the next several years the Institute for Humanist Studies awarded grants to support the formation of new Camp Quest camps. These new camps were independently operated, but were based on the same mission as the original.
Camp Quest Smoky Mountains was the first new Camp Quest to launch in 2002. By summer of 2006 there were a total of six Camp Quests, including new locations in California, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ontario.
As the number of Camp Quests increased, more of a need developed for coordination among the independently operated programs. In 2007 Camp Quest, Inc., the operator of the original Camp Quest, expanded its mission to also serve as an umbrella organization supporting all of the Camp Quest camps in North America.
In 2008, with the generous support of a grant from the Institute for Humanist Studies, Camp Quest, Inc. hired its first employee, former executive director Amanda Metskas.
In 2017, Camp Quest hired its current executive director, Kim Newton. Camp Quest is continuing to expand with new week-long camp sessions launching in Mississippi and Iowa. We now have thirteen Camp Quest affiliates across North America and overseas partners in the UK, Switzerland, and Norway.
Camp Quest Colorado launched in 2012 in Rocky Mountain National Park. Strong volunteer roots caused a relocation in 2015 to the equally stunning Keystone Science School's campus, where we held camp for 3 years. 2018 brings a change in our host site, as we will now hold camp at Cal Wood Education Center, near Jamestown. Cal Wood offers a tremendous amount of land with nine miles of hiking trails on site, along with plenty of space for Predator / Prey (a camp favorite game, ask your campers!). We are excited to introduce this new host site to the community!
Current Executive Director Joel Egbert has been with Camp Quest Colorado since 2014. Joel served as CQCO's Camp Director in 2015. Moving home to Ohio has not slowed his involvement, as he is still active on both the Colorado and National CQ Boards. A veteran of the camp world with 18 years of experience, he offers CQ invaluable guidance to make the magic of camp a reality all over the country. He is currently the Camp Director at Camp Joy in Clarksville, Ohio.