By Hannah E. Jones
Last week, Camp Twin Lakes (CTL) opened the doors to its third campus — 100 acres in Rutledge, Ga. With the $25 million expansion, the nonprofit will serve an additional 3,500 campers each year.
CTL is a Georgia-based nonprofit that provides year-round camp experiences for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges. The organization previously served about 10,000 children and young adults each year, with a new capacity of 13,500. They’ll welcome their first round of campers in mid-April.
With this new campus, the CTL team is focused on expanding its services to support children and teens with mental health challenges. The team has adapted traditional camp offerings to accommodate the needs of their campers, like a zero-entry swimming pool and low-grade paved trails for campers who use wheelchairs or prosthetics.
The team believes that fostering these spaces for Georgia’s youth is critical for teaching life skills and connecting them with campers and counselors who can relate to their personal hurdles.
“It’s tough to live with something that makes you different and you have to focus on it and think about it all the time,” CEO Jill Morrisey said. “Our new campus is specifically designed with a lot of opportunities to be in nature. Nature is very peaceful and very healing.”
She continued: “[Camp] is teaching kids, through recreational programs, how to be independent, advocate for themselves and try new things. The magic is, it’s all embedded in mindful play. When children are learning things through play, it allows them to be much more mindful in everyday life situations.”
The new campus is part of CTL’s original 500 acres, and the expansion adds 20 cabins, a dining hall, a gymnasium and medical facilities. The campus also features recreational adventures, like a zip line, fishing dock, swimming pool, archery and a ropes course.
They also have an unofficial camp mascot — a golden retriever named Bijou who is Morrisey’s therapy dog. She helps provide entertainment and comfort to campers who are feeling homesick or could use an extra buddy. Bijou isn’t the only furry friend at camp, CTL also has a 120-acre farm with goats, alpacas, cows and bees, along with a robust equestrian program.
Now-chairman Doug Hertz founded CTL in 1993 because, while volunteering at a camp for children with cancer, he saw a significant gap in offerings for those with specific medical needs.
“I found out that, frankly, there were not enough facilities [to host these camps] and certainly no facilities designed for special needs kids and their special medical needs. [The camps] were actually competing with one another,” Hertz said. “I asked the question, ‘Why hadn’t everybody tried to get together?’ We all have the same issues, the same challenges … [Why don’t we] build a facility that would meet everybody’s needs?”
Three decades later, CTL now serves children from every Georgia county. The nonprofit has become known for providing high-quality programming and other camps have followed their model, like Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang and Camp Boggy Creek. These inclusive camp experiences are essential, Hertz said, because it shows the campers that they’re not alone.
“One of the great things about camp is to get children and their families together and they can trade stories [and] problems,” he said. “It gives them some confidence that they can get through this because other people have dealt with it as well.”
Morrisey saw this value firsthand. Before joining CTL, she was in the healthcare business and volunteered as a counselor at one of CTL’s partner camps. Through working with the campers, she learned how to better manage her own health.
“There are so many things that happen outside of the four walls of a hospital or a doctor’s office that are important to a child and their family,” Morrisey said. “[As a counselor,] I learned more about managing my own diabetes better by being around those teenage girls at a camp than I ever did in a doctor’s office.”
In an effort to include everyone, CTL has a wide variety of programming, including summer camp, day camp, military family retreats, off-site adventure camping, family getaways and Camp-To-Go for kids who can’t leave the hospital. Striving to reduce the barrier to entry for these services, every camper receives a scholarship for camp regardless of their ability to pay, and 72 percent of campers attend with no cost to their family.
With the new, third campus opening during CTL’s 30th year, the team is excited for this next chapter. Click here to learn more about CTL and ways to support the organization.