Cheyenne and Wyatt Tope guide youth along camp trails
Creative teens in the Ozarks have always been able to find remarkable ways to spend their summers and siblings, Cheyenne Tope, 19, and her brother Wyatt, 17, continue that tradition.
Cheyenne took a job running the horse program at Rolla’s Camp David of the Ozarks this summer and brought her younger brother along as a wrangler.
The children of Jeremy and Dawn Tope of Dixon, Mo., the two have been home-schooled while growing up on the family’s farm of 150 acres where they’ve helped to raise crossbred Angus, as well as an array of chickens, ducks, dairy goats and a Jersey milk cow. Their father works at Fort Leonard Wood while their mother serves as a nurse practitioner in Rolla.
Cheyenne and Wyatt have also participated in various 4-H projects over the years. Cheyenne’s interests included photography, poultry, and cows while Wyatt was involved with raising Alpine, Nigerian and Nubian dairy goats and cooking competitions.
Since he is also lactose intolerant, working and cooking with goat milk was definitely a new and advantageous learning experience. Both love working with horses, a delight they have enjoyed sharing with the many younger campers at Camp David.
“I started out wanting to work in agriculture,” Cheyenne shared. “But now that I’ve been working for a full year with these kids, I know I really want to work in child psychology.”
Cheyenne became an intern at Camp David in September 2018, which means she spent the winter taking care of the horses, getting and keeping them “kid ready” as she calls it. She also helped with couples and family retreats before the 2019 summer camp season geared up.
She and Wyatt take care of the camp’s eight horses, plus Cheyenne’s own horse, Payola, who has also spent the summer providing great enjoyment to Camp David’s kids.
Youth like Cheyenne and Wyatt, as well as numerous high school and college-aged counselors, spend their summers at the Christian-based camp. Now after 16 years, many of the support staff, counselors and even paid staff originally arrived as campers years before.
“I’ve learned so much here,” Cheyenne said. “We take up to six campers on a trail ride at a time and we usually have about 30 campers per week, girls one week, boys the next. A lot of these kids are city kids who have never even seen a horse except on television, let alone touched or ridden one. It’s such a cool opportunity to introduce them to new experiences like this. We do rotations each day, basically getting all 30 campers onto the horses each day for a short ride through the woods, over the trails, along the dirt road and the fields.”
Camp David has begun an international program in recent years, hosting camps for the children of prisoners in India, Uganda, Dominican Republic, as well as one planned later this year in Guatemala. They hosted their third camp in Uganda in August 2019. Cheyenne and Wyatt went along as camp staff.
“We didn’t do horses over there,” Cheyenne laughed. “Wyatt worked with the kids in the sling shot games and I was an ‘auntie’ as we call it, helping out with reading stories to the kids, writing notes to the campers, sitting with the ones who have trouble sitting still, that sort of thing. It was exciting getting to go to Africa and just helped me to be more certain than ever that this is the kind of work I want to keep doing, helping kids find their way in the world.”