A few years ago, Debbie Teague had just finished her active status as a Junior League of Little Rock member. Even with two kids and a busy job, she knew that the time she spent volunteering with the Junior League would leave a gaping hole in her schedule as she transitioned to sustainer status. “I was looking for a way to give my time once I had a little bit of it to give,” she says.
During her last year in the Junior League, Debbie had been placed on the committee for Camp Aldersgate’s Kota Camps, a summer program named after the Quapaw word for “friend,” during which campers with disabilities participate with a non-disabled sibling or friend. “I connected with it,” Debbie says of the experience. “I loved it. It was a great fit for me, and I wanted something that I thought my kids could get involved with, too.”
Fast forward a few years and Debbie, now serves as vice president of the board of directors at Aldersgate, while her children, Tucker, 14, and Abby, 13, are just reaching the age when they can become camp counselors. “The kids have helped out at camp and we’re hoping Tucker will be a counselor this summer,” she says. Debbie co-chaired the camp’s annual fundraiser two years ago, volunteers for a handful of programs and events, and she’s lending her guidance and support to this year’s Aldersgate After Dark Live.
Supporters of Camp Aldersgate will gather at the Clinton Presidential Library on June 5 for what promises to be an eventful and interactive fundraiser. Chicago’s All-American Dueling Pianos will perform hits from Billy Joel to Elton John, old-school rock classics, or mainstream chart-toppers. Guests are encouraged to drop cash in the tip jar to request their favorite songs — all of the tips will be given directly to Camp Aldersgate.
The Chicago group also inspired the evening’s fare, including mini Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas, hot dogs, Italian beef sliders, a popcorn bar and Chicago’s famous black-and-white cookies. “Expect a night out that’s a little different from other fundraisers,” Debbie says. “It’s casual and fun.”
Debbie’s day job as a Realtor has given her a skill set that makes her a valuable volunteer. “The communication and outreach skills I’ve honed as a Realtor go hand-in-hand with the work I do at Camp Aldersgate. And for that matter, the skills I learned volunteering with the Junior League have helped me in real estate and at Aldersgate,” Debbie says.
She especially credits her professional skills to her fundraising abilities when serving on auction committees. “To be able to ask people for donations, or to have a network of people — whether it’s clients or friends — to reach out to for auction items are both things I’ve gained in my professional life that have helped me when I volunteer.”
Debbie began her career with Little Rock’s Janet Jones Company 11 years ago. “I love helping people. I love the challenge of finding the right home for a family, or helping them sell their old home. I’m helping people in their transitions in life.” And she’s helping a lot of people. She sold 57 homes last year and 64 the year before that. Despite a professional career that certainly keeps her busy, she and the other real estate agents at Janet Jones are encouraged to give back to their community. “I don’t think there’s an area of service that we don’t cover.”
Yet for a super mom like Debbie, finding the time to volunteer can be difficult. Her two teenage kids have their own activities that require chauffeuring and chaperoning, and her career can be demanding. “I try to stay super organized and make use of every bit of my time,” says Debbie, who also volunteers for the 20th Century Club and Little Rock Christian Schools, where her children are students. “When you’re able to carve out time to give back, it usually ends up giving back to you. With my job, it’s hard to find the time to volunteer, but you just have to work smarter and more efficiently. No matter how busy you are, you never regret making the time to volunteer.”
“I could not ask for a better ambassador and champion of Camp Aldersgate than Debbie,” says Aldersgate’s Events and Marketing Coordinator Liz Morris. “She truly does it all. Debbie played a big part in the brainstorming and creation stage of this event and didn’t stop there. She has continued to help cultivate sponsors and funding for Aldersgate After Dark Live.”
Camp Aldersgate was founded in 1947, originally intended as a place for interracial fellowship by a group of women from the Little Rock Methodist Council who sought social change during a racially charged time in our state’s history. The women used grant money to purchase a 120-acre turkey farm that was, at the time, located outside the city limits of Little Rock, making the camp one of the first integrated facilities in the United States. Over the next 20 years, more social service programs were added and a dining hall, cabins and conference center were built. As Little Rock grew and encompassed the campus, Camp Aldersgate became an oasis in the city, and one of the nation’s few urban camps.
Little Rock physician Kelsy Caplinger organized Aldersgate’s first summer medical camp for 12 children with medical conditions in the 1970s, and a few years later, the camp began offering Respite Weekend Care camps for children with disabilities whose parents needed the occasional “respite” from their caretaking duties. Today, Camp Aldersgate provides year-round social service programs for as many as 1,700 individuals.
“Camp Aldersgate holds a special place in anyone’s heart as soon as they step onto the grounds,” Morris says. “It provides the joys of year-round outdoor recreation and socialization in an accessible environment, in which campers of all abilities can participate and, most importantly, succeed.”
The funds raised at events like Aldersgate After Dark Live make the camp’s many programs possible. Each summer, Aldersgate welcomes children with medical, physical and development needs to a traditional summer camp setting, with activities such as campfires, canoeing, nature hikes and ropes courses. Aldersgate also hosts seven Summer Medical Camps through June and July, teaming up with MedCamps of Arkansas, Inc., and a variety of local health agencies to recruit campers diagnosed with specific medical conditions ranging from asthma to muscular dystrophy. Volunteer physicians work closely with and oversee the campers. During the school year, Weekend Camps are held twice a month, and a Seniors Day Out program treats senior citizens to a day of food and fun every Thursday from August through May.
“Being there and helping these kids — it makes you feel so good that you’re able to give them an opportunity to enjoy themselves and learn and grow. Things my kids — most kids — take for granted,” Debbie says. She understands that not everyone has the means to volunteer on the campground, but encourages anyone who would like to help to begin by attending Aldersgate After Dark Live. “You get to have a fun evening, but you’re also helping Camp Aldersgate provide something that other camps don’t provide: the opportunity for kids with special needs to go to camp. The whole camp is handicap accessible, so it allows these children to do something that other kids get to do without hesitation. It’s such a special service to them and their families.”
Aldersgate After Dark Live
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday, June 5
Where: Clinton Presidential Library