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After 14 years, camp organizers take ‘a break’

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Mary Hale created the Grace Community Church Fine Arts Camp 14 years ago. This year, for the first time since 2004, the camp will not meet as usual in June. Family commitments and other factors have led to a decision to not hold a camp this summer, Hale said.

Hale and others have been looking back at the camp’s successes, and the number of lives it has touched.

“When we started we had a small group of kids … but over the course of the years that we put together this camp, we had about 3,200 kids sign up,” said Hale, a former band director.

Over the years the fine arts camp grew, and the memories formed along the way are good ones.

“Not once in the 14 years that we have done this program have I had to call a parent because their child was misbehaving,” she said. “Not once have we had an accident or put anyone’s child at risk. I think that is just amazing.”

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The amount of care put into the camp showed. Each year Hale would spend six months planning. All of this was done with the support of Grace Community Church. For the weeks they hosted the camp, the church would accommodate everyone who attended.

“It truly was an amazing thing,” Hale said. “Seeing the kids interact with each other and then seeing the work they did in the finale, whether it was a visual presentation or a painted/drawn presentation, it truly was spectacular to see what they came up with.”

The classes ranged from drum classes, which she taught, to things like crochet and archery. “I researched what was around,” Hale said. “I even flew out to Arizona to see a camp that sounded similar to what I was thinking, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. … At that time, I didn’t know what it would look like, I just knew that I wanted to do it.”

Now the camp has come to an end — for the time being, at least.

“We needed a break,” Hale said. “After 14 years of hard work we felt like it was time to take a step back and just let ourselves breathe.”

That includes her three assistants, Debbi Kelley, Lillian Nyhoff and Adele Hartman.

“Gosh, I don’t know what I would do without them. I had one who was good with computers and another that was a good organizer and one that kept me sane,” Hale said, emphasizing that the camp was a team effort. She did take it upon herself, however, to make the camp successful.

So, what does the future hold for the camp? Hale does not rule out the possibility of a return.

“I just need to train someone new to take my place,” she said. “I am not guaranteeing it will come back but if it does the one thing I ask is that the new director keep the children safe and make them feel loved and welcomed.

“That is my one and only wish for the program going forward.”