The event that marks the founding of Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center (ZPPCC) was a youth rally in 1924 in a lodge adjacent to the current conference center campus at South Lake Tahoe.
“It was the Roaring Twenties, and parents and church leaders were concerned about the eroding ethics of young people,” says Zephyr Point executive director Bedford Holmes.
When the 30-acre parcel that became the Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center was purchased in 1926 ― since reduced to 24 acres by the widening of Highway 50 along the south shore of Lake Tahoe ― there were no buildings on the property so whatever activities occurred during the first 10 years of the conference center’s life were based in tents pitched on the slopes overlooking the lake.
Between the mid-1930s and the mid 1950s three rustic dormitories were built at ZPPCC, but it wasn’t until the 1990s ― with the addition of the Tahoe Center in 1995 and then the Tallac Center in 2006 ― that the conference center could seriously think about increasing its programming, particularly with children and youth. “We simply didn’t have adequate facilities,” Holmes says.
When he was hired in 2008, Holmes was mandated by the ZPPCC board of directors to re-enter children’s and youth ministry at Zephyr Point. He began laying the groundwork and three-and-a-half years ago hired Joe Dalton, a fellow Texan, as ZPPCC’s program director.
“When I started here, Zephyr Point only had 11 programs running,” says Dalton. “Two were for families and zero were for kids. My goal was to increase that to 35 programs in three years, with an emphasis on children and youth. Zephyr Point currently has 37 programs, “so Bedford’s raised my goal to 50,” Dalton says with a smile.
Zephyr Point’s re-entry into children’s programming three summers ago was a day camp. “The first year we had 60 kids. This year we’ve got 170,” Dalton says. “We’re the only faith-based day camp program on [Lake Tahoe], so we’ve really struck a chord,” he adds.
With such growth in overall programming and especially the kids’ program, Zephyr Point last winter hired Jonathan Blose, a former civil engineer who, he says, “got tired of sitting at a desk so we moved to a place we wanted, Lake Tahoe, and found the Lord’s work for us.’ Blose’s wife also works at Zephyr Point as a conference coordinator.
The two can barely conceal their excitement and don’t really even try. “There is so much potential here,” Dalton says. “It’s like a blank slate.”
“All it takes is time and money,” Blose adds. “And we’ve got the time,” he says with a smile.
Their goal is to grow the children’s program to 600 campers and add junior high and senior programs as the younger ones grow older. A pilot program for junior highs this summer has 30 enrolled.
Dalton and Blose are also as crystal clear as the water in Lake Tahoe about the purpose of the children and youth programs. “We want them to have tons of fun and to know Jesus,” Blose says.
Dalton adds, “We have four pillars ― to know God, to know their own identity as children of God, to know their place in the Christian community and, given our setting, to develop an ethic of creation.”
The key to the programs’ rapid growth is building solid relationships with area churches, Blose says. “We want to partner with them so coming to Zephyr Point is natural and seamless, not like living in two different worlds.”
The outreach starts with Presbyterian congregations, but reaches out far beyond them. “There are so many groups and denominations who what to expand their youth outreach,” Dalton says. “We want to foster those involvements so all the area churches can build their youth programs.”
Dalton and Blose feel blessed to be part of Zephyr Point. “I never get tired of being here,” Dalton says. “Camping ministry has really shaped my life so I’ve wanted to give back. We’re trying to create ‘mission-centric’ programs that serve the church and enable an encounter with God. This isn’t a job ― I get to spend my life serving Christ and in a place apart where people can experience God and God’s character expressed in creation.”
Blose agrees. “What better office?” he says. “It’s hard work but it’s definitely not a job. It’s a joy to get up in the morning to see what God’s going to do today in such an amazing place.”