Campers like Mattie Barrett take part in several of the activities at last year’s Insight Wildlife Camp. This year’s camp is planned for June 11-15 at Kamp Kirksey.
LEESBURG -- Area parents and kids who enjoy hunting, fishing and other outdoors activities are sold on the Insight Wildlife Camp the minute they hear about its planned activities: archery, hunter safety, a fishing tournament, first aid classes, a snake education show, a session with a real-live stormchaser, making and eating s'mores around a campfire.
It's the stories of campers like an urban teenager who attended last year's Insight Camp, though, that offer evidence of its benefit to youngsters from all backgrounds.
"A state agency contacted us about (the possibility of) a kid attending the camp last year," Insight Camp Program Specialist Shane Lee, who founded the camp with Director Calvin Cole, said. "They said he'd been kicked out of school (in Atlanta) and was a real troublemaker. He was going into the foster care program, and they thought it might do him good to be around other kids in a different kind of setting.
"(Camp event coordinator) Terry's (Pressley) wife is a social worker, and she suggested letting the kid come to our camp. I'm not exaggerating; he was one of the best campers we had last year. He was great with the other kids, and he went out of his way to do everything we asked all our campers to do. We're trying to get in touch with his foster family so he can come back this year."
While such cases are rare at the camp, planned this year June 11-15 on the grounds of First United Methodist Church of Albany retreat Kamp Kirksey, stories of campers coming home with exciting tales of camp activities or parents glowing about the positive changes in their children are not.
Cole and Lee, Lee County marketing specialists whose love for the outdoors runs deep, started the Insight Wildlife Camp four years ago as a place for their kids and their kids' friends to prepare for hunter education courses and learn more about hunting, fishing and other outdoors activities.
George Pressley, Terry's father, agreed to let the campers spend a week on his land in Webster County.
"They needed a place for all their activities, so I let them use my campsite," George Pressley said. "That allowed the kids to get a real feel for the kind of things they were trying to teach them.
"Of course, having a son and a couple of grandchildren involved motivated me, but I've enjoyed going to the camp even after they moved it to Kamp Kirksey. I always try to go."
The Insight camp is unlike any other held in the region. Cole, Lee, Pressley and trained counselors like Shawn McGuire, Taylor Carlton, Mattie Barrett, Cody Stone and Blake Lee plan a week's worth of activities that leave only a minimal amount of free downtime.
After checking in at the air-conditioned camp, youths ages 6 to 16 become engrossed in target shooting (with air rifles and shotguns), archery, wildlife survival and skills training, fishing classes, first aid classes, a snake education show, presentations by a stormchaser and a registered meteorologist, a hunting dog demonstration, wildlife preservation seminars and tons of recreational activities.
Experts from Chehaw Park, the Flint RiverKeeper, WFXL television station, Lee County EMT, the Wild Turkey Federation, Kritter Getters and other companies and agencies provide instruction. All camp counselors, meanwhile, are certified, while Cole, Lee and Pressley are also certified first-responders. Medical staff is also on site during the week of the camp, and all camp personnel go through criminal background checks.
And while the first couple of years of the Insight Wildlife Camp drew mostly male campers, more and more girls are taking part.
"I've always been involved in wildlife activities, so I didn't buy into that reputation of 'girls can't do anything because they're afraid the world will end if they break their nails'," girls camp counselor Carlton, a rising senior at Lee County High School, said. "I believe girls can toughen up and do anything boys can do, and they get to prove that at the camp."
Added Carlton's friend and fellow counselor Barrett: "I went along (to the camp) with Taylor the first year because we do everything together, but I ended up doing so many fun things I'd never had an opportunity to do before. A lot of girls find out they enjoy outdoor activities just as much as boys do."
Cole said the camp lives up to its motto of "Teaching Youth, One Target at a Time."
"The focus of the Insight Camp is self-reliance, self-esteem," the camp director said. "We tell the kids to leave their cellphones at home because we don't want them calling mom or dad every few minutes. We've had kids who've never stayed away from home get a little homesick before, and when that happens we'll usually let them come in and call home.
"But we keep them pretty busy; we do so much hands-on stuff. We also give the kids opportunities to earn 'Insight Bucks' that they can use to obtain prizes at the end of camp. You'll see kids going out of their way to pick up trash or to help some of the younger campers, and when we see that we give them an 'Insight Buck.' They become very aware of how their actions impact others, and so many parents tell us that attitude has carried over after camp."
A reduced-rate camp fee is available for those who register by June 1, and information is available by contacting Cole (calvin(underscore)iwcyahoo.com, (229) 886-5939), Lee (shane(underscore)iwcyahoo.com, (229) 886-1519) or Terry Pressley (terry(underscore)iwcyahoo.com, (229) 854-3017).
Individuals or companies interested in sponsoring campers are also being sought.
"People like Jackie Sizemore (owner of camp sponsor Backwoods Outdoors) are amazing in doing what they can for the camp," Cole said. "He's one person who cares about our young people. If I lived in Atlanta, I'd drive to Lee County to buy my hunting and fishing tackle from Jackie."