Tradition Returns

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Posted June 11, 2021 | By Amanda Valdarrama, Correspondent

Camp Kiwanis making memories since 1946

An instructor talks to a group of campers in the former dining hall at Camp Kiwanis in this undated vintage photo. [Submitted]

For more than a decade, Scott Mitchell spent his summers at Camp Kiwanis in the Ocala National Forest. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing the cancelation of last year’s camp.

“It was a hard pill to swallow. We had many 13-year-old campers who this was their last year being able to attend,” he said, noting the camp is open to those between 7-13.

But this year, camp is back, and the excitement is in stark contrast to the sadness of a year ago.

The response from parents was typical. The 520 spots – 104 spots per week for five weeks – went quickly. 

While cases continue to drop locally and across the country, the camp will still enforce some COVID-19 guidelines. Mitchell said that many adult staff members are vaccinated.

“The kids and adults have had a very difficult year. These kids are ready to get outside and make friends, and we are thrilled to have camp this summer,” he said.

A group of unidentified Camp Kiwanis instructors pose in this undated vintage photo. [Submitted]

Camp Kiwanis is a traditional, sleep-away summer camp offering five-day sessions for children ages 7-13.

The site on Mill Dam Lake in the Forest dates back to the 1930s, when the area served as a Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. The location later served as a quarantine hospital during World War II. After the war, however, the facility was abandoned and fell into disrepair.

In 1946, the Kiwanis Club of Ocala began holding a camp at a nearby location. Soon after, they leased the former CCC camp property from the U.S. Forest Service. After refurbishing the facilities, the first camp at the current site was held in 1948, starting a lasting tradition for some families.

According to Mitchell, it’s not unusual to see third-generation campers attending.

While the camp has amenities like running water, electricity and air conditioning, most other conveniences are out. No television, no internet and limited cellphone time.

“We want the campers to focus on the moment at hand, to engage with the friendships they are making and detach from technology,” said Mitchell.

And the technology blackout goes for counselors as well.

The camp offers allotted cellphone time throughout the week to check in with friends and family.

Instead, the focus is on activities including swimming, canoeing, field games and skit night.

While most campers pay to attend, Kiwanis Clubs offers scholarships to about a quarter of the campers.

Any money raised goes to the maintenance of the camp.

Camp staff all work for the Marion County School Board, with certified teachers serving as instructors.

Mitchell said the camp uses high school and college students to serve as counselors. With more than 100 applicants, Mitchell chooses 6-8 students who display strong academic skills and prior relative camp experience.

“As a camp director and also a parent, I idolize seeing these smart, awesome people working with younger kids and setting an example,” he said.

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