CHURCH HILL — For five years, Camp Hope has been providing free, Christian-based summer camp fun for the region’s children. The camp must be doing something right because about half of its current counselors are former campers.
This week’s group comprised of about 50 boys and 50 girls ages 7-11 arrived Wednesday, and their first full day was Thursday.
On Thursday, they enjoyed activities such as pottery and nature walks as well as team sports.
The tension level was high and the competition was fierce as one group of boys played human foosball, while another played a variation of dodgeball that resembles soccer, except that touching the ball with your foot puts you out of the game.
Later this week, the kids will do some zip-lining, swimming at the nearby Church Hill Public Pool, horseback riding, and they’ll take a two-hour inner tube trip down the Holston River from Derrick Park to Laurel Run Park.
Each day’s events are bookended with a worship service — one first thing after breakfast, and one right after supper before the kids go to bed.
The 150-acre camp is located on the western outskirts of Church Hill adjacent to the New Canton community.
It’s owned by Hope Community Church, has 10 cabins, can house 100 kids at a time and averages about about 800 children per year.
This camp is all about fun, but it’s also an opportunity for staff and counselors to teach children about Jesus Christ and hopefully bring Him into their lives if He’s not already there.
Camp Hope is where second year counselor Carlie Barnett of Morristown learned about Jesus Christ and accepted him into her life at the age of 15.
A Morristown East High School graduate, Barnett was a camper for three years and has been a counselor for the past two summers.
“Before camp I never knew Jesus, so it was really a great opportunity to come here and learn about Jesus,” she told the Times-News Thursday. “Going to camp let me experience Jesus, and I accepted Him. I’ve been coming here for five years, and each year I still see kids I was with as a camper, and I still see them as an intern.”
As a member of Hope Community Church, Barnett decided she wanted to give back by becoming a counselor/intern at camp. But she also enjoys working with children and only recently decided to change her major at Walters State from psychology to teaching.
“My favorite part of being an intern is making relationships with kids,” Barnett said. “You never know what they have going on at home, if they know Jesus, or anything. Having the kids here opens up my eyes to what goes on in the world, and I really enjoy making new little friends.
“I love this camp. It's home. I’ve always called it home since day one. The best part about this camp is you step foot here and you know it’s just home. I feel it every time.”
Camp manager Doug Messer said camp is free because the church wanted to attract children whose families otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to send their child to summer camp.
“Being related with the church, of course our focus is that we would exalt Christ in everything, and that’s what we do,” Messer said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to encourage this area and minister to a lot of people. When we started building the camp, our original plan was to make it free, but we never wanted to apologize and not have facilities (that) weren’t up to everybody else’s standards.”
Messer added, “At the beginning of the year, we open up registration for the camp, and within a couple of weeks it’s completely full from the start of summer all the way to October. Churches will say they want it for a week or a weekend, and they come do their own camp. But we host six camps, and we staff them through our church. It isn’t just church kids. It’s kids from all over this region.”
Second year counselor Richie Channell from Grey first came to Camp Hope in 2014 when he was 15. He was a shy kid who didn’t have good communication skills, but his counselors and fellow campers helped him get over that.
“I wasn’t really good with people, and we worked as a team,” Channell said. “I like that we were able to talk to each other. The counselors would talk to us, and it was easy to talk to them.”
The most fun thing about being a counselor for Channell is working with the kids.
“I love the kids, and just seeing the way they interact and how God moves through their lives,” Channell said. “I was a camper for two or three camps, and I decided I wanted to be staff and help spread the word of God. Help kids who have been through what I have been through.”
Jacob Schmidt of Rogersville is a Camp Hope original. He came as a camper the year it opened in 2012, and has come back every year since, including the last two years serving as a counselor.
“I always like the family (atmosphere) and this type of community,” Schmidt said. “I was home-schooled, so I never really had a lot of friends. So when I got here it was like, there’s a lot of friends here. I kept coming back mainly because of all the friends and family and the community fellowship.”
Schmidt said he never considered his service as a camp counselor as “giving back” for the good times he enjoyed there as a camper. As a counselor, Schmidt is “still receiving.”
He’s still going to camp.
“I became a counselor as soon as I could,” Schmidt said. “It was a lot of fun to be with the certain counselors I had, and I thought, if I can be like that for other kids, it’s one of the most fun parts.”
Church Hill native Matt Dunn, on the other hand, wants to give back until it hurts. Aside form serving full time as a camp counselor, he also works the night shift stocking shelves at Food City and still has time to play guitar and sing for services at Hope Community Church in Allandale.
Plus, he’s a full time student at Northeast State. He said he sleeps when he can.
“It’s what I love to do,” Dunn said. “I love coming over here in the summer. After doing the internship last year, it means a lot to me. I’ve made a lot of relationships with friends, other counselors and the kids. I would come here every week if I was able to because I just love being over here so much.”
As a kid, Dunn was more about staying at home and playing video games. But when he came to Camp Hope, he made a lot of new friends, both campers and counselors, and participated in a lot of activities he’d never done before.
“I want them (campers) to experience it like I had, but 10 times better,” Dunn said. “When I led worship here, that was my No. 1 goal, and as a counselor it still flows into that. I want the kids to have the best they can have here and teach them about Jesus as much as I can.”