For so many kids, a week or a month away at summer camp is a rite of passage. As a retreat where kids connect with friends, camp is also an environment that offers new experiences and a safe place for just plain fun and making memories. Yet, for kids who live with medical conditions or physical or emotional challenges, summer camp can be out of reach because their special needs cannot be accommodated in typical camps.
Serving those children is exactly why Camp Twin Lakes, now celebrating its 30th year, was created. Located on 500 acres in Rutledge, Ga. (east of Atlanta), the Rutledge camp, along with a second campus, Camp Will-A-Way, at Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, host 10,000 attendees annually with 10 weeks during the summer, as well as 32 weekends throughout the year, including family camps, teen retreats and even events for some adult populations. Each week or weekend of camp is staffed by therapists, medical staff, and other adult volunteers who are provided by the community partner organization to deliver the camp they are hosting.
Now in celebration of its 30th anniversary, Camp Twin Lakes is expanding with a third campus on 100 acres of the Rutledge property, enabling the camp to serve 3,500 more people each year, according to Camp Twin Lakes CEO Jill Morrisey. The new campus will serve its first campers the weekend of April 14 with a new partner, Skyland Trail, a nonprofit that focuses on adolescents with mental health challenges.
“So, at 13,500 [people served annually], Camp Twin Lakes will be the largest camp of our type in the country, which is pretty incredible,” Morrisey said, adding, “and it means that we are also a resource for camps like this around the country to learn from.”
When it opened in the summer of 1993, Camp Twin Lakes partnered with seven community organizations to host 1,000 campers – children living with cancer, sickle cell disease, diabetes, asthma, and other medical diagnoses. Three decades later, the expansion will now enable 80 community partners, each serving different camper populations, to host children and families across the three campuses.
In addition to those with medical conditions, Morrisey explained that the fastest growing segment is kids who have life or mental health challenges such as being in foster care and separated from siblings who they can reunite with at camp. Likewise, children who have an incarcerated parent can meet with their mentors and benefit from adult role models at camp, as well as just experience some of the joys of childhood at camp.
The $25 million expansion will add 20 cabins, a dining hall, gymnasium, medical lodge, activity spaces, such as an arts and crafts building, as well as all the recreational amenities that kids go to camp for, such as a swimming pool, fishing dock, zip line, and ropes and archery courses. Everything is adapted and fully accessible, according to Morrisey, including low grade, paved trails so that kids who use wheelchairs or prosthetics can get around easily.
The camp serves everyone, but it has special connections to the Jewish community, including its founder, Doug Hertz, chairman and CEO of United Distributors. At the time, Hertz was a board member for a camp for kids with cancer that was having difficulty finding camp locations that had the right accommodations for medical treatment that these children would need, germinating the idea to build such a camp.
According to Hertz, the Jewish community specifically played a major role in original board leadership and funding the initial capital and operating needs of the organization. “The Marcus Foundation, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, The Rich Foundation, and the Hertz, Reid, Selig, Zaban, and Montag families were all instrumental in the establishment and success of Camp Twin Lakes,” he said.
Today, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Eric Robbins, led Camp Twin Lakes as CEO for nearly 11 years from 2005–2016, before joining Federation.
“Repairing the world is a core value of Judaism,” Robbins said. “Camp Twin Lakes is an embodiment of that value and does so much good for so many individuals and families. The Atlanta Jewish community is so proud of its involvement and helping Camp Twin Lakes be the incredible place that it is.”
Morrisey says that when people ask how they can help, she emphasizes that, to support the camp’s growth, not only are financial contributions necessary and appreciated for the scholarships that every child receives to attend camp, but the need for volunteers is essential.
“One of the things that is most important right now for our growth is for people to understand the service opportunities available, including serving as a cabin counselor for a week and bringing a team to camp for a workday to help get the camps ready for the summer,” said Morrisey.
In summing up the camp’s impact since its opening, camp founder Hertz said: “Camp has created life changing experiences to build confidence, create leaders, encourage dreams, and ultimately transform lives. Now, 30 years later, I am proud of the camp’s growth and the incredible impact we have made on nearly 150,000 children and families. Our success has been possible thanks to the leadership and support we have received from the entire Atlanta community.”
- education and camp
- Fran Putney
- summer camp
- Camp Twin Lakes
- Camp Will-A-Way
- Fort Yargo State Park
- Jill Morrisey
- Skyland Trail
- mental health challenges
- Foster Care
- a dining hall
- medical lodge
- activity spaces
- Doug Hertz
- United Distributors
- Marcus Foundation
- Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
- The Rich Foundation
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Eric Robbins