Welcome to camp, it's a tradition

| 29 Sep 2011 | 07:57

DINGMANS FERRY - In the turbulent days of the 1960’s a youth from Cranford, NJ was told he would be on his way to Pennsylvania for summer camp, to a YMCA camp called Speers-Eljabar. A tall, athletic young man, already good in track and football, he would learn to enjoy horseback riding and canoeing, and do it in an intergrated setting. In an era when color divided many things, he found that at this camp it mattered not at all. “All that mattered at camp was the spirit of how you went about doing things,” recalled Ravenell Williams IV. After 35 years in the YMCA, Williams today is in his third year as executive director at Camp Speers-Eljabar, an 1,100-acre facility along Route 739 in Dingman Township. Founded in 1948, the camp is actually two camps, Speers for boys and Eljabar for girls. James M. Speers donated $400,000 to develop one of the nation’s first integrated boys camps. Williams recalled meeting Richard LuRoza, a Philadelphia bus driver who was one of the first 10 tent campers from 1948. LuRoza told him how much parents worried about the experiment “It was a breakthrough,” Williams said. Eljabar, named after Elizabeth, Jane and Barbara Wallace, the daughters of its benefactor, met a similar need. In the late 1940’s, there were no camps for girls, Williams said. Much has changed since the days of tents and tiny cabins. The YMCA is non-denominational today. The camp plans to spend $20 million over the next 10 years on its infrastructure and has already raised $2.7 for the current $4 million capital construction plan. Goals remain much the same, every one of the 7,000 who pass through annually should leave feeling himself or herself to be a better person. “We promote values,” Williams said. The camp employs 60 year-round up to 150 in summer and had $1.2 million payroll last year. The camp interacts locally with programs including after-school and summer daytime child care at Dingman-Delaware schools, a basketball league with some 400 participants, cheerleading and karate, dance and swimming at PEEC environmental center. With year-round housing for 300, Williams said one his primary goals is to extend the use of camp facilities, by hosting school, civic, and organization workshops and retreats. Camp facilities are also available for local civic functions and meetings, often without charge. “Everybody’s welcome,” he said.