Camp in Central Georgia changing students’ lives

By MATT NEUENSCHWANDER

ROSWELL, Ga. — Camp Grace is an overnight camp in Roberta, Georgia, that opens its doors to more than 1,000 urban youth each summer.

The camp, which opened in 2007, was founded by the camp’s executive director, Dave Pridemore. Camp Grace runs during nine weeks of the summer, allowing 1,100 kids to spend a week at the overnight camp.

During their week at Camp Grace, campers participate in activities such as canoeing in the camp’s 2.5-acre lake, swimming, fishing, archery, horseback riding and climbing the high ropes course. Campers also choose to take elective classes like arts ‘n’ crafts, dance, photography and outdoor.

In addition to participating in the camp’s activities, campers are taught about the Gospel.

The inspiration behind Camp Grace

Since Georgia has the fifth-highest poverty rate in the country, countless at-risk youths are in need of Camp Grace’s services.

Pridemore’s parents couldn’t afford vacations when he was growing up, but his family went to a gymnastics competition at Ohio State University when he was a teenager. That trip was his first to a place of that magnitude, which influenced his decision to attend college, Pridemore, 66, said.

“That motivated me to get the kids out of the city,” Pridemore said. “Without that visit, I probably wouldn’t have changed my path.”

Camp Grace focuses on kids who live in impoverished areas, but Pridemore’s experience makes him hopeful.

“One week in a person’s life can change their direction,” Pridemore said. “That’s what we’re seeing here.”

What makes Camp Grace special?

“I enjoyed the stillness,” said Elizabeth Renfro, a 14-year-old who was a camper in 2015. “You feel like you’re in a whole new world.”

Renfro attests the secluded environment of Camp Grace to its charm and value to underprivileged children.

“For most of them, they’re broken and they come from these broken families,” Renfro said. “It’ll get them outside of the house, outside of the city and go to a new place and see not only God, but see how the rest of the world really is – not this cycle of sadness.”

Campers don’t always pay to go; normally, campers receive scholarships to spend a week at Camp Grace, said Taylor Jeffreys, who is an 18-year-old counselor at Camp Grace. She feels who the camp focuses on is what separates it from other summer camps.

“They would not have been able to go to any sleepaway camp if it weren’t for Camp Grace,” Jeffreys said. “This camp is made for the children who usually would not be able to afford camp.”

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Taylor Jeffreys (Photo by Matt Neuenschwander)

Outcomes of Camp Grace

Irwin, who was a camper when he was 12, became involved with drugs, alcohol and gang affiliation after coming home from his week at Camp Grace, Pridemore said.

Despite Irwin not wanting to go back to camp the next year because of his involvements, his mother required him to return.

“He came back at 13 and was radically saved,” Pridemore said. “He ended up being a chaplain of his high school before he graduated and led most of his gang members to Christ.”

Irwin is now a full-time counselor at the camp. His mother has signed up 150 campers for this year’s Camp Grace, Pridemore said.

Camp Grace changes the hearts of campers for when they return home, Pridemore said.

“You need to go to the cities and the locations these kids come from to have the ability to see what they deal with,” Pridemore said.

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