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Camp Appalachia provides a sense of community for kids in the region

July 6, 2018

At Camp Appalachia there’s a motto:

“All are welcome, and no one leaves the same.”

The camp, which is owned by Scott Depot’s Church at the Depot, is celebrating its first summer of day camps this year. Camp Appalachia is on the former 157-acre property of the longtime and popular Salvation Army Camp Happy Valley.

The church has a long-term goal of serving at-risk kids affected by the opioid crisis as a sleep-away camp.

Jared Davis, who is the camp director, said the church purchased the camp last winter as part of its goal to “be for West Virginia.”

“We want to be for West Virginia. We want to be for the future of West Virginia,” he said.

Since then, volunteers from the church and several other community groups have come together to spend countless hours repairing the camp.

Camp Happy Valley was last open during the summer of 2014 as a day camp. The camp is located in the Scott Depot area of Putnam County on the former Fletcher Farm that was purchased in 1967.

Everything, Davis said, from the pool to the cabins to the playground and mess hall needed to be upgraded. He recalled long nights fixing the pool with other volunteers, personally digging trenches to repair water lines and spending countless hours alongside volunteers making other repairs.

“Everything is worth it. Everything

is in disrepair. It’s up to code now, but the work is worth it. One day, a kid is going to have an event out here and we’re going to alter their life’s course. We’re in our fourth or fifth week of camp — and we’re already doing it.”

Camp Appalachia opened up to campers after Putnam County Schools closed for the summer. Since then, it’s served as a day camp — servicing not only at-risk kids, but other campers who want to take part in the fun. The space is also available for rentals — open to groups wishing to rent shelters, rent the pool, rent a soccer field or take part in the ropes course once its repairs are completed.

The camp is a Tier Two-licensed camp, meaning it can accept funding through LINK and Connect from low-income families. At Camp Appalachia, there’s no shortage of fun — paddle boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, games and so much more.

Several campers said they look forward to fishing, riding on the boats and spending time in the pool. They have favorite counselors and activities.

“One child who had been abused, he got on a paddle boat and was like, ‘I’ve never been on a boat!’ We couldn’t get him off it. We just let him paddle boat for a long time,” he said, laughing. “It’s just little minor victories like that.”

There’s an intrinsic sense of community,” Davis said.

“What do we do when that kid’s first sense of community is broken? We reteach them what an actual community is,” he said. “We might be the first functional community a kid’s ever belonged to. And that’s when we can really start breaking things down.”

And they’re big on building camp traditions.

“We are big on camp traditions. We have a Whoop Tree. Every time we walk past it we yell ‘Whoop!’ When you’re 30, you’re going to walk past a white oak tree and go, ‘You know what? I remember this camp and we had this stupid whoop tree.’”

They’ve partnered with the Putnam Wellness Coalition to teach opiate prevention. They’ve also forged partnerships with the state Division of Natural Resources, the state forestry department and West Virginia State University.

State also held a camp of its own for at-risk kids at Camp Appalachia the first week, Davis said.

And while it’s owned by a church, it’s not your typical church camp, Davis said.

When hiring counselors, he said he was particular to hire counselors from a variety of backgrounds. Most are college students, he said, studying education, child psychology, social work or other similar programs. Rather than focusing on “what is wrong and how to fix their problems,” Davis previously said the camp’s strengths-based model helps teach kids to overcome their situations by investing in what their strengths are as a unique individual. “When a kid can come to summer camp for prevention — maybe it’s a kid who is not very athletic and doesn’t think they can achieve on the rock wall. When you build that child up, and you help them up the rock wall ... when they see something that’s hard and they didn’t think they could accomplish it — and they accomplish it — that’s going to build their resiliency,” he said previously.

To enter its next phase of being a full-service camp for at-risk kids, Davis said Camp Appalachia needs to repair the property’s cabins. The cabins need repairs to their water systems, new roofs and new doors. Davis said they can’t do it without partnerships and are seeking area businesses or community members who wish to partner with them to repair the cabins and fulfill its mission.

Those interested in donating to Camp Appalachia who wish to partner with the camp are asked to contact Church at the Depot at 304-757-9166 and ask for Davis. Funding will be earmarked for the camp, he said.

For more information, like “Camp Appalachia WV” on Facebook.

The camp is still accepting campers for its day camp, Davis said. To register, call 304-757-9165 or email Davis at j.davis@campappalachia.org.

“If the Salvation Army still operated it, this would be their 50th year,” he said. “It’s sad, but we plan on being here. This place is going to be somewhere where generations of kids get to remember their time at camp and their experiences.”

Reach Carlee Lammers at Carlee.Lammers@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @CarleeLammwers on Twitter.