Camp Appalachia started out as a vision from local camp counselors who felt they needed to do more. The original dream for the camp was to buy the property, which was previously owned by the Salvation Army, and turn it back into a summer camp. The property had been abandoned for four years and was in major disrepair. The original group of dreamers were Jared and Brooke Davis, Noah Gillispie, Ashley Arthur, and Eli Gillispie. Each of these individuals had worked together at a different summer camp and understood the impact that camp can make on an individual.
This group of people gathered at Jared and Brooke’s house and began to dream about what could be. As a move of faith, they contacted the realtor who had the camp listed and asked for permission to walk the camp and dream. Permission was granted, and this group went and walked the property, envisioning all of the things that could be. A quote was written on a piece of unlined paper, the first part of the “business plan.”
The quote was, “First it’s impossible, then it’s improbable, then it’s accomplished.” No truer statement could have been said. Here they were, newly weds and college students dreaming about what good this property could do for kids of our community. From there, Jared approached local businessman, Dr. Eric Tarr, and asked for help in drafting a profit-loss estimate. Dr. Tarr invited Jared to his home and showed him how to go about estimating for and starting a business. Once this was accomplished, board members of Church at the Depot were approached about a possible opportunity to purchase the camp as one of their ministries. The board representatives walked the property with the dreamers and agreed that this was an endeavor worth pursuing. After months of planning, discussions, and presentations, Church at the Depot made an offer to purchase the property. That same day, another person made an offer for more money, but because the Church was going to keep it a camp and serve youth, the Salvation Army accepted our offer. We were officially in contract!
What started as four individuals walking a 1.2 million dollar property in September of 2016 ended with a partnering and sponsoring church purchasing the property in February of 2018 for 535,000 dollars! At first it was impossible, then it was improbable, then it was accomplished. The same group of dreamers met up on the dam of the property once the property was officially purchased. The task of acquiring and working for the camp was now accomplished, however turning it back into a camp started us over to the impossible stage.
Due to the abandonment of the property, the facilities were in major need of renovations. All copper piping was stolen from every building on the property, meaning that none of the buildings had access to water. The power to cabins was shotty and malfunctioning, the pool was non-operational, the grounds were overgrown, and not a single building would pass a health or safety inspection; however, we did what we had become accustomed to. We slowly started moving the needle from it being impossible, to improbable, to accomplished.
The primary reason that the camp was able to open as a day camp in the summer of 2018 was because of another ministry of Church at the Depot, the Teays Valley Child Development Center (TVCDC). TVCDC partnered with Camp Appalachia by bringing their summer time school aged programming from the main day care center out to the camp. TVCDC funded many expensive projects including getting needed kitchen equipment, repairs to the pool, funding the work needed to pass health and safety inspections, and allowing the Camp to host their kids. This partnership was and remains our most crucial and beloved partnership.
After the summer of 2018, work at the camp shifted from getting facilities able to host day campers, to getting our ten cabins ready to host overnight campers. We received multiple grants via the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation to assist us in improving our infrastructure, making necessary repairs, and getting the cabins safe and able to host campers. One key organization in this process was the NCCC Americorps. These groups of young adults volunteer a year of their lives to assist non-profits nationwide. After help from various organizations, we were able to host both our day camp, as well as our first overnight camp in the Summer of 2019.
Then came the Summer of 2020. Previous to the Covid 19 global pandemic, we had eight weeks of scheduled overnight camps in addition to our day camp. Because of the pandemic, and by the ruling of Governor Justice, all overnight camps were cancelled. Day camp was still operational due to our attainment of tier 3 license through the WVDHHR to care for the essential workers’ children, then as the state opened back up, all children. We took many precautions and improved our facilities’ abilities to maintain social distancing, handwashing, and many other safety protocols. Even with these protocols, we did have to close for a two week period due to three staff members contracting the virus. This summer was one of the greatest and most trying summers of most of our lives. Covid affected almost every aspect of camp life. From how we separated kids, to when and where we ate, to how to get all the kids inside on poor weather days. The one thing that Covid couldn't change was the fact that Camp was still a place that fostered resilience, engaged learning, and brought about a sense of community when the world was full of panic and isolation.