CHURCH HILL — Like many of the youngsters attending Camp Hope this summer, camp director Kraig Otto’s family didn’t have the financial resources to send him to camp as a youth.
At the age of 15, Otto got the opportunity to attend his first summer camp, and that experience changed his life because it was during that camp that he was saved.
He later got involved with the Hawkins County-based Hope Community Church (HCC), has been a part of Camp Hope since day one, and has been camp director since 2014.
Otto’s goal is for other youngsters to have the same type of experience he had at camp.
“I really believe in camp ministry,” Otto told the Times News Wednesday. “We have a lot of opportunity in our community, and there are lots of churches. Sometimes because there are so many churches, that can get saturated and you don’t have the same effect on people inviting them to church. But if you invite a kid to camp, we don’t have any problems filling up camp.
“It’s an opportunity to share the gospel, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s about giving God the glory, and I think we do a pretty good job at that — and having a lot of fun too.”
Camp Hope, which is located in the New Canton community just west of Church Hill, is currently in its fifth of seven weeks of camp, this week serving children ages 7-10.
This is the only “day camp” where the kids go home at night, however. At all other camps, the kids spend the week and sleep in bunkhouses.
The day camp is able to accommodate a a few more kids this week, with about 140 in attendance as opposed to about 100 for the overnight camps.
It’s a Christian camp owned and operated by HCC, and the day begins and ends with gospel teaching.
In between, there are a lot of fun things to do such as horseback riding, zip-lining, arts and crafts, GAGA (dodge ball for your feet), human foosball, nature hikes, and most of the other traditional summer camp activities.
Camp Hope is hosting seven camps, and then at least two others this year will be hosted by other churches, which means about 1,000 children, mostly from Hawkins County and other nearby areas, will receive a free summer camp experience thanks to HCC and its contributors.
“Kids in this world have to grow up too fast,” Otto said. “We’re giving kids an opportunity to be kids. A lot of the kids we get, financially their families wouldn’t be able to afford to do that, so us being a free camp, they can come be here and be a kid, and hopefully be shown some love and have a good time.”
That free camp doesn’t happen by accident.
HCC pastor and founder Rip Noble credits the hundreds of volunteers working at Camp Hope all summer for keeping it a free summer camp.
“There’s a lot of things that make Camp Hope what it is, and obviously it’s our commitment to Jesus Christ and making him known,” Noble said. “But this camp is also free, and what makes this work is these volunteers. Our staff in the kitchen are here at 6 a.m. every morning, they work all day, and none of them get a dime. If it wasn’t for them, this camp couldn’t stay free. They’re really the heart and soul of it. So as you look around, the people who do the climbing wall, the people who do the swing and the zip line, and the horses — all of them are volunteers from our church.”
Aside from the 7-10-year-old age category, Camp Hope also hosts groups ages 11-14 and high school camps. The different age groups are scheduled at different times.
Something new this year is a 30-foot climbing wall which is also used as a “Leap of Faith” bungee jump, and a huge swing which was a hotbed of activity Wednesday.
There’s no tally yet on how many souls have been saved this summer at Camp Hope, although its safe to say the Lord’s name has been called out more than once from the bungee jump and the huge swing.
Friday will be a big day because that’s when campers get to ride the zip line. They’ve also been practicing a skit all week, and on Friday they get to put their talents on display during the end-of-camp talent show.
“We have some main activities that we do, but we a lot of side things like scavenger hunts,” Otto said. “We have a thing we do called ‘Squad Wars,’ which is like capture the flag. We have an obstacle course, water balloon fights, we set up a huge 300-foot slip and slide.”
Otto added, “Our desire is to target Hawkins County kids, but we have kids come from all over. We don’t turn anybody away. We’ve had kids this year from Florida, Minnesota, South Carolina — so we get them from all over. The farthest one we’ve had was from Germany, but it’s mostly family in this area who know about the camp, and when these kids come in to visit, they get to experience camp.”