For a week each year, a group of Anniston-area children experience summer camp for free, thanks to Grace Episcopal Church.
Now in its third year, Foothills Day Camp provides a week of swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts and other activities for local kids who might not get the opportunity otherwise. Adult volunteers from Grace Episcopal Church and high school-age youth counselors staff the camp each year. The camp is funded by donations from the community and fundraisers.
“We are growing, though, so we will have to figure out more fundraising routes to take for next year,” said Lee Shafer, the priest at Grace Episcopal Church.
Foothills Day Camp is hosted at Camp Lee in Anniston. This week, the camp welcomed 53 day campers from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The day campers, ages 6-10, are from the Anniston-Oxford area. The 43 youth counselors, however, came from all over.
Jon Auman, from Arab, Ala., has been a counselor at Foothills for two years now. Auman said the camp is one small step to changing the world for the better.
“My favorite thing is interacting with the kids: spending time with them and watching them grow,” Auman said at camp this week.
Thomas Taylor, 10, has been attending the camp since it was started. Taylor’s only complaint about Foothills was the summer heat.
“But we go swimming and kayaking, so that helps,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the best thing about Foothills has nothing to do with the activities, though.
“Everyone likes me here,” Taylor said. “There is so much excitement and energy, and I have so many friends.”
That’s the mission of the camp, according to Shafer. “We want to bring people together from all different backgrounds, people who wouldn’t normally come together otherwise,” she said.
While Grace Episcopal Church sponsors the camp, Shafer said the church’s goal is not to convert anyone from a different denomination or even to bring the masses to Christ. It is most important that the kids feel comfortable and accepted in an environment that fosters spiritual growth, Shafer said.
Youth counselor Jamia Jackson is an Anniston resident who volunteers at the camp year after year because she wants local kids to have an experience that she didn’t.
“Seeing the different cultures come together and learn from each other is something that we don’t do enough outside of camp,” Jackson said.
Foothills was started after Shafer noticed a need for it in the northeastern Alabama area. “I had been to a similar camp and realized a lot of kids in this area will never have the chance to experience camp,” Shafer said.
The camp Shafer was talking about is Sawyerville Day Camp in Greensboro, Ala., sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.
At Foothills this week, Ayania Stone, 10, said learning about the many activities keeps things from getting boring.
“My favorite is the zipline. I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m proud of myself for doing that still,” Stone said.
Many campers at Foothills come from the church’s Preschool Friends program, but more campers are let in by referral. Shafer said the church is currently in the process of figuring out how to grow for the next year. Each camper receives a bathing suit, beach towel, backpack and water bottle, all of which are donated by members of the community.
“It’s amazing how much help we have, not to mention that every adult here is volunteering their time,” Shafer said. “And Camp Lee has been so good to us by giving us a discounted rate and offering their grounds to us.”
Kerry Aleccia, an adult staff member and a Grace church member, is a nurse on site for the camp. Aleccia works at UAB and switched shifts with co-workers to be at the camp.
“I just really wanted to be a part of it,” Aleccia said. “Everyone grows from it – the kids have a great time, and the staff grows so much from being able to provide this for them.”
For Aleccia, Shafer, and the rest of the staff at Foothills, the kids offer a new perspective on spirituality, life and just enjoying themselves.
“Learning the kids’ take on things is as enlightening as what I’m trying to teach them,” Aleccia said.