In the summer of 1947, Camp Aldersgate was formally dedicated. The original purpose of the 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 of 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 120-acre turkey farm to provide a place to accomplish this mission. As one of the first integrated facilities in the United States, Camp’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. However, the leadership of the camp continued the programs in the midst of these challenges.
Camp held its first programs in a renovated farmhouse and turkey brooder houses. A one-lane dirt road led to the camp located four and one-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 on the 120-acre site 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 was built, a dining hall added, the cabins were completed and the director’s home was renovated. Camp Aldersgate 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 grew, new social service programs were added in response to community needs. One of the South’s largest programs for seniors was begun. The camp hosted 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 Camp’s 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. During this decade, the Respite Weekend Care camps were started for children with disabilities whose parents need an occasional break, or “respite.” 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, oncology, and bleeding disorders. In addition to the medical camps, Camp host two Kota Camps to serve children and youth with special needs that are not covered under the Summer Medical Camps. Kota Camps allow our participants to bring a friend or sibling to camp with them to participate in the programs and activities.
While the Summer Medical Camps are only provided from June to August, Weekend Camps are provided for individuals from August to May. They are offered twice a month for children and youth with special needs. Weekend Camps are separated into three different trails. Each trail is geared toward each camper’s strengths and needs.
Camp Aldersgate also houses Seniors Day Out programs once a week from August to May. Each Thursday, senior adults from central Arkansas come together to enjoy fellowship, arts and crafts, exercise, lunch and other programs. Camp serves about 60 senior adults a week.
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.