Saving the camp: Hargis Christian Camp reaches its $2.5 million donation goal

Published 3:53 pm Friday, January 26, 2024

By NOAH WORTHAM | Managing Editor

CHELSEA – Things were down to the wire as Hargis Christian Camp struggled to reach its donation goal of $2.5 million in 25 months but on the final weekend Aaron Knight watched as members of the community flooded in one after the other to hand in funds to save the camp.

“When I got home on Dec. 31, our deadline day was that Sunday, Dec. 31, we laid everything out and counted everything and we made it,” said Knight who runs the camp with his wife Kellie.

A five-year journey has reached its completion now that Hargis Christian Camp is paid for in full and is saved thanks to the efforts of countless people.

“We’re grateful and the community came in and did an amazing job,” Knight said. “It’s been a huge blessing and God has met every need and it hasn’t been really a big time struggle, he’s put every piece into place and I don’t want to ever discount that in any way.”

Hargis Christian Camp serves as not only a nostalgic staple since 1965 for those who live in Chelsea but is also a treasured location for getaways and bible camps.

“So many people in our community, especially those that grew up in Chelsea, have all of these memories of going to Hargis as a kid and being a lifeguard and that sort of thing,” said Autumn Stanford, the camp nurse for Hargis Christian Camp. “It means a lot to so many people in the community.”

After the property was purchased by Doug Eddleman of Eddleman Properties, Inc in 2019, the future of the beloved camp seemed uncertain.

“That’s when I got involved,” Knight said. “I heard about it, and I began to pray about it. I felt like the Lord was calling my wife and I to save this camp for God’s glory. So, I pursued Eddleman to have a conversation.”

For a period of 11 months, Knight continued to visit Eddleman’s office with food and gifts trying to discuss the idea with him before settling into a contract in December of 2021. There was a long road of fundraising ahead but Knight knew that saving the camp was important.

“We wanted to save the camp in order to secure it for Jesus, to make it a pipeline to heaven—a place that He can be made known to this generation,” Knight said. “We wanted a place where kids could come and find out about the Lord and their lives could be changed and they could have hope.”

In the first year of fundraising the work was already beginning to pay off with success shining through.

“The first year, we got a lot done, we remodeled, we hit the ground running (and) had camps,” Knight said. “We probably had around 8-10,000 people come through between campers and events in 2022.”

However, the camp didn’t hit its mark at the end of the year and entered year two in default.

“It was kind of a scary situation,” Knight said.

Fortunately, the charity of strangers came to help them as two large donations came in with one for $450,000 and another from a couple $600,000.

“They blew us away,” Knight said. “We had dinner with a couple that barely knew us, and they said that God put on their heart to donate to the camp.”

Things got down to the wire for the camp as it came into December 2023 still owing more than $500,000 and going into the last weekend, Hargis Christian Camp was still $117,000 short.

“All I knew was for the last 24 months God had worked it out every time and had always met every need and I knew he was going to do it but I just didn’t know how,” Knight said.

The night before the final day, Knight let the community know he would be at the camp if anybody wanted to come donate.

“From 9:30 in the morning to 5:30 a night, a steady stream of cars came down into the camp donating donations,” Knight said.

After church on Sunday, Knight laid out all the donations and counted everything up and he then proceeded to text Eddleman to tell him the exciting news.

“His exact words were, ‘Congratulations, Happy New year, (you) worked very, very hard and did a great job,” Knight said.

Stanford recalls what it was like to watch the fundraising unfold and to see the goal finally reached.

“It’s just brought me to tears,” she said. “It’s mind blowing to have followed Aaron from the very beginning when he was cutting grass and praying over this camp and then to selling T-Shirts to actually meeting with the developer and having this plan to actually, truly save the camp.

“And (to see) the whole community rallying together, donating their time, donating their resources, renovating the cabins and painting and decorating—it’s been the sweetest experience to watch it unfold.”

Now after finally saving the camp, Knight turns toward the future with a new slogan to “Rebuild the Camp” that has been there since the ‘60s.

“We have four lodges that need (to be) totally rebuilt,” Knight said. “We’ve done a ton and we still got a lot left to do.”

With the space now restored to its camp days, an entirely new generation can grow and appreciate their time out in the woods.

“I did not have the opportunity to go to Hargis growing up, and so the cool thing for me was being able to experience Hargis as an adult (and watching) my children experiencing Hargis,” Stanford said.