Many of us have summer camp experiences. Endless days of camp songs at the flagpole, tug-of-war and kickball, swimming and hiking, followed by s´mores and stories around the campfire at night. Even the rainy day inside activities were new and exciting. They are nostalgic memories where time stood still even just for a moment, and we were parent free. Some of us seized the opportunity to be away from home without our parents while the other half of us wrote home to Mom because the homesickness was too much. Regardless of which group you were a part of, there was something magical about summer camp. It was a time for transformations, building self-esteem and instilling principles of teamwork that many of us use even today in our adult life. It was a test of endurance, a chance to make long-lasting friendships and relationships and the possibility to be a better person when we left, than when we arrived.
The Right Reverend Richard Bland Mitchell was the eighth bishop of Arkansas of The Episcopal Church, and he had this exact vision. He recognized the value of summer camps in the lives of young people, and it became his mission and passion to see it become a reality. During the 1930s, the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas held a summer camp program on top of Petit Jean Mountain every year. But due to limited openings it was only possible for one session. Bishop Mitchell wanted young people from every Diocese to come together to form relationships while living and working together as a Christian family. So in 1940 Bishop Mitchell acquired 80 acres of land four miles from the present site that would become Camp Mitchell.
But to make Camp Mitchell, all that Bishop Mitchell envisioned, more was to come. In 1946 Bishop Mitchell purchased an additional 450 acres from the Y.M.C.A. Then in 1948 he bought 30 hutments from the US Army to establish boys’ and girls’ cabins. Bishop Mitchell´s vision was now shaping into a reality as a summer camp. In 1978 Bishop Keller acquired twenty additional acres adjacent to Camp Mitchell, which included a 2.5-acre lake, to continue the vision of Bishop Mitchell. From there Camp Mitchell continued growing. The construction of two recreation pavilions for arts and crafts and a large enclosed all-weather activities room soon followed. Stone cabins with heat were added along with a resident manager house and resident caretaker house.
Camp Mitchell was growing into more than Bishop Mitchell originally envisioned. It was moving from a summer kids camp to a year-round camp and retreat center. In 1970 the St. Andrew house was constructed followed by a new dining hall in 1971. Over the next 10 years, the camp would grow tremendously. This growth started with the construction of the Darragh Cabin which will sleep eight and includes a kitchen and lounge, the Newport Cabin which will sleep twenty-seven, followed by the Grace Lodge, open year-round, that sleeps twenty-six with a common room and kitchen. The Canterbury Lodge was built in 1978 and is a full home that sleeps twelve and includes the 2.5-acre lake. A few years later, Camp Mitchell included the construction of two tennis courts followed by two additional log cabins. The more recent additions to Camp Mitchell include the Kelle Dining Hall, the Infirmary, a Youth Cabin and the Seibert Cabin, none of which would have been possible without the support from friends, the Diocese, and the community.
Bishop Mitchell’s vision from so many years before was now a reality. According to Program Director Jenny Knight, Camp Mitchell has been called the “Heart of the Dioceses” due to the dedication, commitment, and passion of Camp Mitchell’s leadership and staff.
Today, Camp Mitchell hosts nine summer camps for children ranging in ages from primary to high school to adults with mental and physical deficits. “Summer Camps are the reason that we exist today,” says Program Director Jenny Knight. Within the nine summer camps are four traditional youth camps. Each week-long camp offers a specific theme along with a Christian-focused program. Children will experience the opportunity for play, creating, and exploring, and will leave Camp Mitchell with new friendships, craft projects, and more profound faith. Camp activities include arts and crafts, songs and games, gardening, hiking, swimming, archery, and more. And since the camp is located on top of Petit Jean Mountain, there is an excellent history for the campers to enjoy. Camp Mitchell also offers two specialty camps — creative arts and adventure — for children whose interests are more oriented toward one focus.
Along with the traditional summer camps, Camp Mitchell provides two camps that focus on specific causes. The Robert R. Brown Camp is for adults with physical and intellectual deficits. This camp was created by Bishop Brown who shared a vision to create a camp program to meet the needs of adults with physical and intellectual deficits. Camp Mitchell also offers the Dick Johnston Children’s Camp for youth with incarcerated parents. These specifically oriented camps provide support to the individual needs of the campers. The final summer program offered by Camp Mitchell is the Latino Family Camp that is held every Labor Day weekend for Latino children and their families.
Camp Mitchell facilities now accommodate family reunions and retreats, church camps, women’s and men’s retreats, wellness retreats and even weddings. These retreats have made it possible for Camp Mitchell to evolve from just a summer camp program to be a year-round retreat center. It has become a place for renewal, rest and way to reconnect with one another and with an individual’s faith. Retreats can be customized to the group’s needs including a self-guided retreat format where the guests can decide how much or little they would like to participate in depending on the overall objective as well as self-guided groups who bring their own programs.
Whether you are a parent who is interested in sending your child to a summer camp, a group who is interested in a retreat, or you are just looking for some personal time to rest, Camp Mitchell is the place where you can feel welcomed and at home. With the support of the full-time staff, including the Camp Director and Program Director you will have the ability to experience the full benefits of Camp Mitchell.
Camp Mitchell is always looking for people who would like to use their gifts to help sustain their ministry. It is because of volunteers that Camp Mitchell can keep their facilities maintained. If you are interested in supporting Camp Mitchell by volunteering your time and efforts toward the ministry of Camp Mitchell’s Volunteer Corp, you can contact Betsy Baumgarten or Robert Wetherington at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other ways to ensure Camp Mitchellś ministry to continue is by making a financial pledge to the camp. Your donations will help ensure that the day-to-day operations exist. For more information on monetary donations, please contact James Matthews at email@example.com.
If you would like more information on any of the summer camps available, or if you would like to apply to be a Camp Mitchell summer counselor, you can contact Jenny Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a family or group looking to stay at Camp Mitchell for a reunion or retreat you can contact Camp Mitchell’s Office Administrator Shelley Hanry at email@example.com.