Camps & Retreat tries out day version of camp for inner-city kids at Camp Providence

By Jessica Brodie

ANDERSON—What happens when you experiment with bringing the high-impact training, activity and energy of the first-rate Asbury Hills summer camp to the struggling Camp Providence to serve inner-city kids in Anderson?

If you ask counselors, organizers and campers, you get a weeklong recipe for success and fun.

From July 3-7, Asbury Hills experimented with a “test week” at Camp Providence to see how well a day-camp version of their United Methodist residential camp would work.

“We really brought it,” said Arthur Spriggs, director of South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries, which runs Asbury Hills. Not only did they offer typical camp fare—devotionals, skits, songs and arts and crafts—but also archery, pontoon boat rides, golf lessons with a pro at the nearby golf course, swimming at the pool next door and much more. For the roughly 40 campers ages 7-17, many of whom are used to spending their days indoors or at the local community center, it’s a chance to step into a completely different realm.

“On Day 1, they’re horrified. On Day 2, they’re like, ‘Yeahhh!’” Spriggs said, steering his golf cart along the banks of the 42-mile Lake Hartwell as he points out the variety of activities the campers have enjoyed throughout the week. “These kids are loving it.”

Testing the waters

Camp Providence started in 1972 as the vision of Anderson’s Archie Morgan, a local man who started bringing inner-city kids to Providence Methodist Church to fish, canoe and swim. Providence Methodist was established in the early 1800s and had since closed. But in 1972, the old church started being used for summer Sunday worship services from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as well as for the camp. The United Methodist camp received much participation and support from many of the 75 churches in the Anderson District and was, as Anderson District Superintendent the Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray said, a part of the ongoing legacy of a once-vital church whose ministry had morphed through the years, offering various gifts in each season of its life.

But as camp rules and regulations began to tighten, Leonard-Ray said, and especially after Morgan died, Camp Providence began to struggle.

The old Camp Providence board dissolved, and the conference and district were left with a beautiful piece of property, a desire to serve local children in need—and no way to put that vision into action.

Then, a proposition: would Camps and Retreat Ministries consider leasing the camp for $1 from the district and testing the waters?

They decided to try one week, a Fourth of July camp, and see what happened. But instead of operating on a shoestring budget, as Camp Providence had done in the past, Spriggs decided to see what would happen if they went “all-out, Asbury Hills-style.”

The test has gone so well that Spriggs and Leonard-Ray are already talking about next year and the year after—even a long-range vision for how Asbury Hills can offer “lake week,” plus partner with other local camps to use the property, as well.

“Camps and Retreat Ministries does not have a property with waters like this one has, with a 42-mile lake, and we can’t do sailing, waterskiing, jet skiing,” Spriggs said. “I’m already thinking of what we can do here.”

Reaching ‘the leftovers’

What appeals to Spriggs and Leonard-Ray is that the camp is able to serve the kids who really need it the most: those who do not have the opportunity to participate in other camps. Spriggs said they initially had thought to partner with United Way and the local Boys and Girls Club, but they found out those groups already had camp opportunities. When they reached out to the Anderson Housing Authority, they learned there were dozens of kids from two different housing projects who had no camp opportunity at all.

“These are the kids who are left over in the projects, and so it really became a great partnership,” Spriggs said.

The camp is free for the kids thanks to contributions from Anderson District churches, the Asbury Hills golf tournament and other donated funds. The kids are picked up each day from their housing projects and then dropped back off at the end of the day.

Casey Fouts, resident services coordinator for the Anderson Housing Authority, is tasked with lining up activities for the kids in the projects all summer. The week at Camp Providence is far beyond what they usually get to do, Fouts said; many cannot swim and have spent little or no time in a camp setting.

“This is an opportunity to get outside and do something they don’t normally have the access to do,” Fouts said, noting that if they were not at Camp Providence, the kids would probably be at home, hanging out in the apartment complexes or at the community center.

Wedding local ministry, conference

The day the Advocate visited, the kids were busy making wind chime crafts, guided by the counselors. Excited chatter filled the air: who would get to ride on the pontoon boat that afternoon? Would they get a chance to play “shoe tag” again?

The counselors—Asbury Hills staffers who requested to work on their week off—bent down here and there, helping one teen line up her wind chime twigs just so, or patiently assisting a young girl sliding a bead onto a string.

“The money is nice, but I’m not doing it for the money,” said counselor Rebecca Castro; this is her 13th summer at Asbury Hills and her third as a counselor. “It’s an opportunity to minister to a different crowd of kids I wouldn’t normally get to work with.”

Castro kneels to help Zaniya, age 10, who smiles up at her. This is Zaniya’s first year at camp, and so far, she says, she loves it.

“This is so much more than a local board could do,” Leonard-Ray said, watching as the kids sing and laugh, just like they’d do at Asbury Hills. “This weds a local ministry and a conference ministry.

“It’s a day camp version of Asbury Hills.”

Spriggs said they definitely hope to continue “Asbury Hills at Camp Providence” next year; the only question now is how many weeks they can do it well.

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