PRESTONSBURG – When you think of summer camp, images of swimming, hiking, fishing and general fun come to mind. Camp Shawnee offers those activities and much more to children ages 6 to 15 in Appalachia at a nominal cost.
“While the campers are here, they don’t have to worry about all the challenges they face at home,” said Patricia Griffith, Camp Shawnee manager. “They don’t have to ask, ‘Will we get dinner tonight?’ ‘Will Daddy have a job tomorrow?’ ‘Why is life so hard?’ All the stressors are lifted off their shoulders and they can just have fun. They receive unconditional love from our volunteer counselors and know that another person cares about them and wants to connect with them.”
The camp, run by Christian Appalachian Project, also teaches life skills to help the children create a foundation for the future. Camp activities develop leadership, safety, and team-building skills, as well as self-esteem, respect for others, and educate the campers about health and well-being. This summer’s theme is Build Your Future, focusing on boosting the campers’ self-confidence to do well in school, and explores potential future opportunities.
“We call it ‘summer-camp magic,’” said Barry Powers, camp coordinator at Camp Shawnee. “It’s that feeling campers, volunteers, and staff alike experience. Our mission is to provide an affordable summer-camp experience to children from low-income families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to camp.”
Volunteer counselors come from across the country and are often college students or recent graduates. They work with an average of 80-90 kids per week; nearly 1,000 Appalachian kids are expected to attend one of the seven weeks of camp this summer.
Of the attendees, 85 percent are living at or below the poverty line. Campers pay only $10 for the week and no one is ever denied due to inability to pay. Griffith says support from companies like Toyota is critical to the camp’s survival. The automaker donated $7,500 to Camp Shawnee.
“Seeing the smiles on the campers’ faces and knowing that they get a break from the challenging realities in their home lives is an incredible thing to witness,” said Rick Hesterberg, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. “Camp Shawnee goes a step further than providing that relief; it instills in these kids a sense of confidence and prepares a foundation for future success. At Toyota, our passion is getting people to where they need to go, not just on the road, also in life. This program is making a huge impact on our next generation.”
Camp Shawnee is the first stop on a three-day road trip Toyota team members are taking across Kentucky to visit partner organizations. The team members will see the difference the organizations are making in the lives of individuals and communities.