Summer camps return to Hargis as renovations continue
Published 9:59 am Thursday, June 16, 2022
By EMILY SPARACINO | Staff Writer
CHELSEA – The grounds of Hargis Christian Camp have been alive with activity the last two weeks as dozens of children have come to summer camps.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, the sights and sounds of young campers splashing in the pool, maneuvering kayaks around the lake and listening to Bible lessons in Cannon Hall have been the norm.
For those working to revitalize Hargis, the return of its summer camps has been a welcome change from the last two summers, when the camp sat silent.
“It’s a big faith journey,” Camp Director Kellie Knight said. “But we see it every day unfolding, and that’s the cool part.”
Much has happened at the camp to enable Knight, her husband, Aaron, and many others to hold this year’s summer camps at Hargis.
A brief look back at the last several years provides a sense of that progress.
In 2019, the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, which had purchased Hargis Retreat Center from First Christian Church of Birmingham years earlier, sold the property to Eddleman Properties for $2.1 million.
After holding the 2019 YMCA Summer Day Camp, the program officially ended operations on Aug. 30.
When Aaron heard about the sale, he thought and prayed about the situation, eventually deciding to lead efforts to preserve Hargis as a Christian camp.
“He said, ‘We need to start believing to save this camp,’” Kellie said. “I was behind it 100 percent, but Aaron actually put boots on the ground.”
Aaron, who serves as pastor of Chelsea’s Redemption Church, met with Doug Eddleman, president of Eddleman Properties Inc., to discuss possibilities for the property.
After months of uncertainty, it was settled in December 2021 that a down payment of $195,000 was needed by Dec. 31.
Aaron threw himself into fundraising efforts, reaching out to local businesses for donations and partnerships.
He set a goal of raising $196,000 by Dec. 30, but the businesses’ response was so strong that donations totaled $235,000.
According to the Knights’ lease-to-purchase agreement for the camp, $1 million will be due by the end of 2022 and another $1 million in 2023.
“Mr. Eddleman was a joy to work with,” Aaron said. “He loves the Chelsea community and was very interested in saving the camp.”
Meanwhile, renovations to the camp’s facilities are still going strong.
The pool was cleaned up and refreshed prior to the summer camps starting, as was the dining hall and Tine-Davis Hall.
Renovation projects are underway at several other buildings, including Giltner Lodge, Long Lodge and A-Frame Lodge.
When renovations are complete, the camp will have the capacity to sleep more than 200 people.
“We’re really trying to do everything with excellence,” Kellie said. “We don’t want to cut corners.”
Thanks to ongoing support from neighbors and strangers alike, they have not had to cut corners.
Hargis has received countless material and monetary donations that have carried the revitalization efforts forward, even at times when Aaron and Kellie were unsure of how a need would be met.
For example, when they were advised to throw away the camp’s old mattresses, they wanted to upgrade from the traditional 4-inch bunkbed mattresses to a higher-quality option, but they also knew better mattresses would come with much higher price tags.
Even so, people rallied behind the cause.
“We now have 300 brand new mattresses at Camp Hargis,” a May 25 post read on the Hargis Christian Camp’s Facebook page. “300 brand new vinyl, 9-inch mattresses were just over $35,000. That is a lot of money to man, but not to God. Thanks to the generosity of the first group of people who gave to the initial mattresses drive and a couple of other families who gave big, we are now set.”
Others have donated canoes and kayaks, and funds to buy the 30 tables and 150 chairs for the dining hall.
“The community surrounding the efforts has been so much,” Kellie said. “We wouldn’t be able to afford to do it, but people that see the same vision for what God will do out here, they’re just like, ‘Yes, I want to be a part of that.’ It’s been amazing.”
Nearly 50 children in kindergarten through fifth grade have attended the summer day camps each week.
The four weeks feature different themes: Olympics, Circus, Glow and Splash.
Junior counselors and adult volunteers have led the groups of kids throughout their activities.
Hargis has begun accepting donations for its “Dream Center,” which will open in early November and will provide Christmas gifts for local families in need.
Starting in November, Hargis will host a Christmas light show and live nativity through the end of December.
Proceeds from the event will go directly to Hargis Christian Camp.
The Knights continue to point away from themselves when they talk about the details, big and small, that have fallen into place throughout the process of preserving the camp.
“It’s just God’s provision completely—the people, the resources, the labor, all of it,” Kellie said. “We’re so humbled by it that we get to be a part of it.”
To follow updates, learn more about Hargis or donate to the camp, visit Hargischristiancamp.org or Hargis Christian Camp on Facebook.