Imagine with me: You’re in grade school, headed to overnight summer camp for a week.
Not far from home, your dad turns off the busy city street onto a winding road into the campsite.
The woods replace the city crowd and noise with open-air cabins. There’s land to run and roam with new and familiar friends. Nights are spent listening to crickets and bullfrogs sing lead – and backup. Mornings are for basketball, tetherball and the Pledge of Allegiance. Conversations are about life filled with God, Jesus, prayer, faith and love.
Frank Lassiter isn’t alone in sharing those memories of New Life Camp in Raleigh. So does his wife – and their sons, now 30 and 31.
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And so does Katie Davenport, 20, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“I loved it, and I haven’t missed a summer since,” said Davenport, who has been a New Life camper since third grade and a counselor since she reached teen-hood. “I want my kids to come here.”
Many others will have a chance to reminisce when New Life hosts its first Alumni Appreciation BBQ at 6 p.m. May 13 at New Life Camp on Falls of Neuse Road. It’s free and open to former campers, staff, donors and volunteers.
While the event bridges the camp’s past and its future, New Life launched its first capital campaign, “Camp On,” on March 27 to ensure the ministry can keep blooming where it’s planted.
To do it, New Life must first rebuild its 67-year-old summer camp facilities, including cabins, tabernacle and dining room.
So far, Camp On has raised about $850,000 toward its first-phase goal of $3 million by August to build 10 new cabins and a new worship center. One cabin already has been built, and others are slated for construction in the fall.
In one of the largest campaign pledges, an anonymous donor has challenged New Life with a $200,000 matching contribution, said Greg Burton, the camp’s executive director.
Rounding out the Camp On capital campaign goal is an additional $4.8 million needed to rebuild program buildings, the dining hall and infirmary.
“We’re trying to make sure that 20 years from now or 30 years from now, this camp is still here,” Burton said. “We’re full and will be full, but there’s a great need to get these facilities upgraded so we still exist in 20, or 30, years. This isn’t about us; it’s about the next generation and decades to come.”
Under Robert Johnson Sr.’s leadership, the 72 acres tucked at the corner of Falls of Neuse and Durant roads became New Life Camp in 1950 – complete with recreation areas, a tabernacle, cabins, staff buildings, dining room and swimming pond, which now has a 20-foot-long water slide.
Having spent two years at Umstead Park, the ministry paid $12,000 for the site, less than half the original $35,000 price tag.
The camp’s first gymnasium was added in 2000, followed in 2010 by an activities center with a basketball gym and activities center inside and a sports field and swimming pool outside.
Both additions expanded New Life beyond summer camp to include middle and high school sports teams and recreation leagues, as well as home-school supplemental programs, and weekend events hosted by churches and nonprofit organizations.
“We’re overtly faith-based,” Burton said. “We don’t turn people away. We use everything we do to share our faith in God and Jesus.”
New Life reaches beyond its wooded haven into the Cedar Points apartment community of refugees with camp scholarships, and provides pre-school preparation, homework tutoring and support to parents navigating the school system.
“The best way to love well and grow relationships is to be amongst them,” Burton said. “God wants us to be a blessing to our community, and provide a place where kids of all backgrounds can have a fun, safe place to be loved.”