Nestled in one of Ashe County’s most beautiful areas is a sanctuary for families whose rigorous schedules allow little time for relaxation, and whose medical bills make a vacation financially impossible.
That sanctuary is Camp New Hope, a privately owned, nonprofit, no-charge facility for families who have children with life-threatening medical conditions. Since it opened in 2006, the camp has been a home away from home for over 200 families.
“Families make their own schedules here,” said Camp Director Randy Brown. “I let them know about activities that we can offer them, and they choose when and what they do.”
Families arrive at the camp on Sundays and leave on Fridays, and in between, they set their own schedules, relax, and enjoy time together with their remarkable children.
Camp New Hope was started by businessmen Mark and Will Adkins.
The Adkins brothers established Waterfront Group, a land development company through which they purchased 160 acres of riverfront property in Glendale Springs, which was known to locals as High Valley.
Will Adkins felt that, because of its unique beauty, the land known as High Valley was a special place, so he decided not to develop or sell it.
In 2006, Adkins decided to use this piece of valuable property to provide a place where families with children who have life-threatening diseases could go for a week of much-needed relaxation.
Knowing that these families are troubled with large medical expenses, the Adkins brothers decided they would lift the financial burden of a vacation, providing the lodge and food for the week at no charge. Work began immediately, and with the help of many volunteers, Camp New Hope opened to its first family in just 14 weeks.
Brown was working as a nanny for Adkins when he approached her with the idea for the camp. Brown lives at the camp providing meals and support for the families as well as coordinating visits and maintaining the facilities, grounds, and equipment.
The camp consists of a five-bedroom lodge, a chapel, seven miles of trails, a large hilltop pasture for stargazing and picnics, many gardens and sitting areas, and Mackinley’s Playhouse with games and toys for the children.
The camp’s lodge began as a hunting lodge built in the 1950s, and had been unnocupied for about 30 years when Adkins renovated it for the camp. Brown said that when Adkins showed her the lodge and asked if they could use it, she jumped up and down on the floor, testing it, and said, “This is a solid building. We can throw some lipstick on it and it’ll be fine.”
According to Brown, about 85 percent of the children who come to the camp are in wheelchairs, and often are tube-fed and non-verbal. Most of the campers return year after year until they succumb to their illness, she said.
Looking around the walls of Mackenzie’s Playhouse, one can see collages of pictures of previous campers on the wall and wooden signs with campers’ names that are hung by the roadside while the children are at the camp. This week, the sign reads “Mindy’s Mountain” in honor of this week’s guest Mindy Kimmell.
Mindy is 10 years old and has cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, hydrocephalus, quadriplegia and is legally blind. Mindy was accompanied by her parents, Pam and Wayne, aunts Misty and Diane and cousins Courtney and Karlie. It is Mindy’s second time at Camp New Hope.
“You don’t find many people who would give of themselves like this. Most people would want to make money, but for (the Adkins brothers) to be able to do this is great,” said Mindy’s mom Pam.
The unstructured environment is one of the benefits of the camp, giving families a chance to relax.
“We live on a schedule. We see doctors and therapists almost every day. You feel like you’re always trying to beat the clock,” said Pam.
On Tuesday, the Kimmell family was visited by a park ranger with a nature program for the children, and later that afternoon, the family went for a horse-drawn “buggy” ride at Ernie Campbell’s farm in Lansing.
One of the most moving areas of the camp is the Garden of Hope, which evokes bittersweet emotions.
The garden was inspired by Brandon and Jeremy Hawkins, brothers with Batten disease, a fatal, inherited disorder of the nervous system that typically begins in childhood. A stone in the garden is inscribed with “We walk by Faith, not by sight,” because the boys are both blind, a side effect of their illness. At the center of the garden stands a Bradford Pear tree with two tiles, created in 2008 bearing the Hawkins brothers’ names and handprints, at its base.
According to Brown, there are 377 cases of Batten in the U.S., 33 of which are in North Carolina. Camp New Hope has sponsored 11 families affected by the disease, and sadly, four of those children have since passed away as a result of their illness.
“I wouldn’t call it a memorial garden, because Brandon and Jeremy are still alive, but there are memorials here for those who have passed,” said Brown.
Camp New Hope is a place where families can feel comfortable.
Brown related stories of families whose children do not usually sleep through the night, who had spent many comfortable nights at the camp. One example she gave was a young girl with a seizure disorder who had several painful seizures a day and whose family was asked to leave a hotel because the girl’s screams of pain disturbed other patrons. Typical vacation venues can be distressing for families like these, Brown said, but at the camp they can enjoy freedom, peace, and privacy.
Brown said it costs around $600 a week to sponsor a family. Brown speaks to churches on behalf of the camp and tells pastors that if they could raise $50 a month, their church could sponsor a family. “If each person in the church gave just a dollar a month, that would be enough,” she said.
Many churches contribute to the camp, whether it is by collecting money to sponsor families, or helping with larger projects, like building equipment sheds or apartment space for volunteers. Among some of the biggest supporters are First Baptist Church in West Jefferson, Bald Mountain Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church in West Jefferson, Forbush Friends, and the Blue Ridge Worship Center.
The camp is maintained by two full-time volunteers, Steve Fortener and Dave Rigger who coordinate with Brown in managing the ongoing construction and upkeep around the property.
“We are open 52 weeks a year, but no one usually comes in January and February so that is our time to do things we cannot do while the families are here,” said Brown.
“I really just want folks to know the sacrifices that Will and Mark have made to keep the camp open. They are amazing and are the most caring men I have ever met. When hard times came they could have chosen to close the camp and sell the property but they put what was best for these families before what would have been a better business decision for them. If more people where like them the world would be a better place to live,” said Brown. For more information on Camp New Hope, to view their wishlist, or for information on donations or volunteering, visit www.campnewhopenc.com.