In the summer of 1973, 18-year-old Essie Shealy attended Clemson University’s Jaycee Camp Hope for the first time. Fifty years later, going to camp is still one of her favorite summertime experiences.

Founded in 1969, Camp Hope was operated in various locations throughout South Carolina by faculty members in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management (PRTM) prior to finding its permanent home at the Clemson University Outdoor Lab in 1975. In those early years, Herbert “Bert” Brantley, founding chair of the PRTM department, had a vision to build an event and program venue to offer camp experiences to children and adults of varying ages and abilities — a place where people could go to enjoy nature, build connections and find a sense of belonging.

And so, when the Outdoor Lab — nestled on a scenic peninsula on Lake Hartwell just 5 miles from campus – opened its doors to campers for the first time, Shealy and her family made the trip from Columbia, South Carolina, to Clemson for the first of many summers.

Jaycee Camp Hope offers one- and two-week summer camps for children and adults ages 7 and older with developmental disabilities, providing unique opportunities for campers to develop independence and explore fun, challenging and educational outdoor activities.

“Essie has come to Camp Hope every summer for 50 years because she has carried the sense of belonging she receives at camp throughout her life.”

—Leslie Conrad, director of the Outdoor Lab

According to Shealy, 68, her two favorite things about attending camp each summer are seeing her friends and swimming in the pool, and in her spare time, she can be found writing letters to loved ones, friends and counselors. In fact, she has become well known for her thoughtful and colorful letters, which can be found hanging in offices at the Outdoor Lab year-round.

Through funding from the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce, Camp Hope has served more than 10,000 campers since its inception, with many repeat campers like Shealy returning year after year.

According to Leslie Conrad, director of the Outdoor Lab, Camp Hope is one of the few camps of its kind across South Carolina, and counselors take great pride in providing traditional camp experiences — complete with lake and pool activities, overnight camping, fishing, archery and so much more — to campers who may not get these opportunities otherwise.

“Camp Hope is about building relationships — making new friends and reconnecting with old friends,” said Conrad. “It is about having fun and exploring new interests in a safe environment, and, most of all, it is about finding a place to belong. Essie has come to Camp Hope every summer for 50 years because she has carried the sense of belonging she receives at camp throughout her life.” 

Shealy’s love for camp is contagious, and campers and counselors are inspired by her passion to tell the world about Camp Hope. In the months before and after camp, Shealy can be found telling camp stories to legislators during her rounds as a mail carrier at the South Carolina State House. 

And though her athletic loyalties lie elsewhere, Shealy admits she will always love and support Clemson because of what is has given her — friendship, belonging, Camp Hope.

The Outdoor Lab is housed within the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Clemson World!