NEWPORT — Among the whistling of the tall pine trees and overlooking the washing of the waves, a wooden cross stands tall marking the place where campers have gathered year after year to find and strengthen their faith. It’s a place they call Camp Albemarle.
“This is a place where kids can learn in different ways, and it can be a powerful experience. We want to create a safe place to ask those questions about God and the events happening in their lives,” said Tom Hussman, executive director.
Camp Albemarle was started by the Albemarle Presbytery in 1953 and has opened its doors to campers, families, and churches ever since. The camp is open to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, and is a private nonprofit.
“We love our Presbyterian heritage, but we are nondenominational in how we do things. We encourage kids to go back and get involved in church and grow their faith beyond their five days at Albemarle,” said Hussman.
Program varieties are plentiful and designed for those ranging in age from three years old to high school seniors. There is the traditional weeklong camp with cabin mates of their age, a day camp for young ones in the Carteret County community, and a service camp for older youth that allows them to work with organizations in the area, such as OWLS Wildlife Shelter and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Coastal Carolina.
There are pathfinding and adventure camps where outdoor skills, a compass, and learning to build a shelter and start a fire come into play. There are cadet and mariner sailing camps where one can fine-tune those Sunfish-steering nautical skills. There are also night owl camps with a focus for activities under the stars and moon as well as leadership training camps for older youth seeking to gain leadership skills. This fall, Albemarle will debut an outdoor preschool geared towards teaching children to find God through the wonders of creation. There is a camp for everyone.
“God is calling us to serve here and this community,” said Hussman. “This is a great opportunity to be the hands and feet of God. Camp Albemarle is a safe place where everybody belongs.”
This summer, 100 campers from across the state will ascend on these historic 29 acres of land each week where they will join 35 counselors and program staff for fun, fellowship, faith, and adventure.
Cabins gather together for three meals a day in the dining hall. Morning energizers and campus clean-up get everyone geared up for days that are spent creating in arts and crafts; reading in Bible study; swimming, sailing and canoeing on the Bogue Sound; playing four square; climbing up trees and ropes courses; and hitting the target in archery. Evenings are spent gathering together for vespers and devotions.
“The things that set Camp Albemarle apart are we offer campers a sense of community, and we are very intentional in kids knowing more about God,” said Hussman.
The sense of community is one reason that second, third, and fourth generations of families are taking their turn as campers and often as counselors.
“This is home to me. Every summer I’ve wanted to come, and there is no place I’d rather be,” said Matthew Chappell, 18, of Greenville.
He has followed in a long line of family footsteps, having spent nine years as a camper and currently serving in his first year as a counselor.
“This is a very special place. It’s where I feel closer to God,” said Chappell.
Helping one another feel closer to God through activities and time together at camp is one of the main goals of the staff and counselors.
“God is always around. Our ultimate mission is to serve God and spread his word,” said Mandy Goff, assistant director. “The traditions we have, our cabins, small groups, and sense of community create a tight-knit family that’s really important here.”
“What has been created here is very special. God has his hands on this place,” added Hussman.
On the last night of camp, as all gather around the campfire with s’mores roasting and the soft melodies of youth singing along to “Sanctuary,” and “Light the Fire,” it’s a chance to connect with the natural beauty of the outdoors and listen for the quiet whispers of God.