In the summer of 1947, Camp Aldersgate was formally dedicated. The original purpose of Camp was to serve as a place for interracial fellowship, meetings and Christian training. Seeing a need for social change and racial harmony, a group of women from the Little Rock Methodist Council requested a grant of $25,000 from the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries to purchase a local turkey farm; with more than 100 acres, this space would go on to provide a place to accomplish that mission.
As one of the first integrated facilities in the United States, Camp Aldersgate’s role in race relations led to challenges for the board, staff and participants during the 1950’s. Gunshots were fired into camp, board members and staff received threatening phone calls, and the dam at the lake was dynamited. Despite the challenges, Camp leadership continued to provide positive community programming.
The first programs on site were held in a renovated farmhouse and turkey brooder houses. A one-lane dirt road led to the property, which was located four and a half miles outside the city limits of Little Rock. Original land improvements included the creation of a new lake and trails through the hardwood forests. In the early 1950s, a site plan called for the demolition of some the old structures and the creation of new buildings for the growing programs. Eight new concrete cabins were built, four for boys and four for girls. Between 1947 and 1960, a new conference center and dining hall were built, cabins were completed, and the director’s home was renovated. Camp Aldersgate – which still occupies the original site – is one of the few urban camps in the nation, and is considered by many to be an oasis in the center of Arkansas’s largest city.
As Camp began to grow, new social service programs were added in response to the community’s needs, including the formation of one of the South’s largest programs for senior adults. The grounds also played host to environmental education programming in cooperation with the local public schools, specialty camps for persons with disabilities, and a residential program for youth with drug and substance abuse problems.
Two of these programs led to the creation of significant programs off-site. Although administered by other organizations, they are still in existence today: the programs for youth at risk at Joseph Pfeifer Camp in Little Rock and the Good Shepherd Ecumenical Retirement Center, located across the street from Camp Aldersgate.
During the 1970s, Dr. Kelsy Caplinger, a Little Rock physician, organized the first summer medical camp for 12 children who had medical conditions that prevented them from attending other camps. Weekend camps were soon started for children with special needs, allowing them a chance to experience the excitement of camp during the school year. Space was also made available for a free medical clinic operated by the Catholic Social Services.
Today, Camp Aldersgate continues its dedication to providing year-round social service programs for over 1,700 individuals of all ages and backgrounds. During the summer months, Camp hosts week-long medical-specific camps for children and youth with the following medical conditions: muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, diabetes, cardiac conditions, arthritis, kidney conditions, asthma, cancer, and bleeding disorders.
Children and youth with special needs that are not covered by one of these summer medical camp categories may still be eligible to attend one of two Kota Camp sessions. Kota Camps are inclusive camps that allow our participants the unique opportunity to bring along a friend or sibling to participate in all programs and activities.
While our typical summer camp season runs from June to August, we do provide weekend camps consistently from August to May. They are offered once a month for children and youth with special needs.
With the continued support of our surrounding communities, businesses and friends, we are able to provide the best possible atmosphere, equipment and facilities for our extraordinary participants.