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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Happy Campers

All kinds of images come to mind with the word “camp.” For some, it evokes thoughts of marshmallows, campfire songs, or roughing it. But at YMCA Camp Carson, which celebrates its 75th summer June 7, “camp” carries much more significance.

Since it first opened in 1940, Camp Carson has offered more than marshmallows and campfires to the lives of the youth who have attended its summer programs.

Camp Carson challenges children to expand their horizons with new goals and activities with which they may not have been previously familiar.

Mark Scoular, the executive director of Camp Carson, says that teamwork is essential to camp. “I think of camp as a unique place where all children are accepted. We create an environment where they feel safe and confident to take on new challenges. They leave camp feeling empowered to take on life in so many ways. Camp truly does affect them in many ways for the rest of their lives.”

Many changes have taken place since the camp’s inception. In the summer of 1940, campers slept in the dining hall — the cabins arrived in 1941 and have stood for the past 73 summers. Camp Carson is currently replacing the originals with all new cabins, which will be in use for the first time this summer. They will keep a vintage cabin (Sioux Cabin/Cabin #1 which was donated by the Kleymeyer Family) on the grounds.

In June 1940, William A. Carson purchased the land in Princeton, Ind., and donated it to the YMCA. Carson served as President of Old National Bank from 1948 to 1953, and during his tenure developed and oversaw the beginning of the branch banking system. Moreover, he set new standards for community philanthropy and service as exampled by his generous donation of the camp.

Leonard Schlamp of Evansville was the first camper to sign up for Camp Carson in the summer of 1940. According to Schlamp, camping is “fellowship, cooperation with others, respect for others, and just a wholesome atmosphere.” Schlamp, 88, spent his summer at Camp Shawnee on the Green River near Bluff City, Ky., before attending Camp Carson.

“In 1940, the other campers and I had to sleep in the dining hall,” Schlamp says. “The activities that were offered that summer were mostly waterfront activities that included swimming, canoeing, and also hiking in the woods. There also was some ball playing. The campfire was a big thing as well as singing campfire songs.

“It was pretty rustic. Swimming in the river is more dangerous than a lake of course,” Schlamp adds. Today his great-grandchildren Kameron, Konnor, and Kyrissa attend Camp Carson.

In the beginning, the camp followed more of a traditional model. Over the years, Camp Carson evolved to provide not only the usual camp activities, but also specialty camps like Wrangler Camp, Dirt Bike Camp, INdependence Diabetes Camp, Family Camp weekends, and camps for children of Military Families. All the camps provide activities such as swimming, canoeing, crafting, mountain boarding, mud-hikes, skit nights, zip lining, dirt biking, archery, horseback riding, water-sports, and most importantly friendships. Each camp constructs its activities around building character, instilling Christian values, developing decision making abilities, and building community.

For Camp Carson’s staff, the word “camp” is all about “Acceptance, Challenge, and Empowerment” (ACE). Campers must agree to step outside of the realm of comfort, cell-phones, computers, and fluorescent lights to accept each other, face new challenges, explore nature as well as the soul and leave feeling empowered to explore all the world has in store.

Flags of the seven different nationalities represented at Camp Carson are displayed on the drive in to the camp.

Bobby Racey, 18, is currently a member of the summer staff. Racey defines camp as “change as well as responsibility such as bonding with other people in a cabin, growing as a family through differences and respect, cleaning the cabin, and teamwork.”

The summer of 2014 will be Racey’s 11th year at Camp Carson (eight of which were spent as a camper). Since becoming a counselor, Racey says he has discovered “it’s a lot different being a counselor as opposed to attending the camp. I’ve learned that the counselors make the camp, not the activities. Since

I’ve seen and known how the kids look up to the counselors, I try to keep that in mind in terms of leadership.

“No matter how tired I may be by that last week of summer, I remember that this is the kids one week of escape, and with that in mind, I give it my all as a counselor,” Racey says. “I will definitely always be a part of Camp Carson, that’s not a question. I eat, breathe, and sleep camp.”

Teamwork is encouraged through bunking with other individuals in cabins and successfully working together to set goals and overcome challenges. Whether that is a group challenge of balancing a 10-foot by 20-foot teeter-totter platform or an individual challenge of riding a water-zipline after stepping off a 45-foot tower.

Camp Carson also provides many special programs throughout the summer. For children of the military, there are camps for those who have parents currently serving overseas or soon to be facing deployment, as well as another week for those who lost a parent in combat or have a parent who was injured or disabled in combat. These programs celebrate the children’s service, help them develop coping skills and also help them let their guard down for a week and be a kid with a group of youngsters who truly “get” their world.

In addition there’s a military themed day where the children are invited to celebrate their parents’ service and experience truck rides, humvees, assault courses, a climbing tower, MREs — similar to the foods their parents are eating overseas, and often a visit from the Indiana Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, in a Blackhawk helicopter.

In partnership with St. Mary’s Medical Center and with support from the Jay Cutler Foundation, Camp Carson also provides a traditional camp experience for children with Type 1 Diabetes. This week allows these campers to participate in camp activities while living with other campers who deal with diabetes as the norm. At an age appropriate level, they also learn more about counting carbs, checking blood sugar, and how to balance food, insulin, and exercise. Supporting the traditional camp staff, a physician, nurses, and nutritionists provide additional education and care for this session.

“The education piece of our INdependence Diabetes Camp is empowering the child on how to live life in general and that the disease does not define the child,” says Scoular.“For a week these children are invited to play, explore, learn, grow, and to have fun. For a week, they get to camp and be a kid.”

Lisa Verkamp, marketing and annual campaign director for the Downtown YMCA, says camp is “a place where kids can discover who they really are. It’s about taking away the complexity of their everyday lives so kids can focus on themselves and building friendships with others. I think every kid deserves a time like that to reflect and grow.”

Camp Carson’s summer programs begin June 15 and run through Aug. 8. For more information on Camp Carson call 812-385-3597, email campinfo@ymcacampcarson.org or visit online at campcarson.org.

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