Camp Sertoma, the statewide sponsorship project of Sertoma members throughout South Carolina, was founded by the Electric City Sertoma Club in Anderson, S. C. in 1969. Originally the camp utilized the existing facilities of the “Clemson Outdoor Recreation Laboratory Facility” and was run by Clemson University. As the camp gained recognition and popularity, it soon became obvious that it could provide Sertoma Clubs from all over the state the opportunity to give underprivileged or speech and hearing impaired children between the ages of 7 and 13 a truly unforgettable week-long experience. This growing acceptance by Sertomans led to the decision to explore the possibility of building permanent facilities to augment those already in existence and to be exclusively for the use of Sertoma sponsored children. On November 5, 1977 groundbreaking ceremonies were held to celebrate the implementation of that decision and Camp Sertoma was born.
The Camp Sertoma campus at the Outdoor Laboratory consists of five cabins with “Bowfin”, the most recently added, being completed in April of 2000. Other facilities used by campers in addition to the lodging facilities are – Kresge Hall the dining facility; a beautiful, handicapped accessible Olympic sized swimming pool and bath house; a magnificent “World-Class Waterslide; a large picnic shelter and the state-of-the-art “Milledge Clyatt Outdoor Cooking Facility”; a large outdoor amphitheater; Cannon Chapel; an archery range; Frisbee golf course; the “Eagles Nest” open air tree house; Group Initiatives/Ropes Course; Holbrook Athletic Field; and exceptional waterfront recreational facilities on Lake Hartwell. Like facilities created by other civic organizations at the Outdoor Laboratory, the structures built by Sertomans are now owned and maintained by Clemson University under a cooperative agreement. Since the inception of the camp over $3,000,000.00 in facility construction and camper sponsorships has been contributed by South Carolina Sertomans.
It is important to keep in mind that the support for Camp Sertoma has been generated by relatively small groups of dedicated, energetic civic club members whose sole purpose for generating the funds needed was to ensure that the children of South Carolina – who might not otherwise have such an opportunity – experience the most outstanding summer camping program available anywhere. To achieve those ends a number of fundraising efforts have been held. They include:
- Project 76 – Camp Sertoma adopted as a statewide project in 1974 (with the upcoming American Bi-Centennial as inspiration). Raised $100,000.00 (matched with $100,000.00 from Clemson University) to build the first four cabins.
- Project Splash – Raised $152,000 to build the swimming pool and bathhouse which was completed in 1988.
- Launch A Shooting Star – Raised $500,000 in three and one half years to establish the Camp Sertoma Endowment Fund which is primarily used to defray Club camper costs.
- Bowfin Cabin – Raised $130,000 to build a 5th cabin in order to house all of our campers in one area. This project was inspired by the Downtown Greenville Club in memory of a former camper.
- Gateway Project – Raised $45,000 to provide landscaping of the entrance to Camp Sertoma and a memorial area for recognition of significant contributors to the camp.
- Sprint For Splash – Raised $160,000 to build a waterslide and make improvements to the swimming pool. This project was completed in 2014.
Although the above “major” fundraisers were huge contributors to the development and support of Camp Sertoma, the ongoing projects held by individual clubs are extremely important to our success. They not only provide essential funds for operation of the camp but they also serve to inspire and motivate our members as we seek to Serve Mankind.
Children attending Camp Sertoma are identified by Sertoma Clubs through a careful selection process and all camper fees and other expenses related to camp (clothing, medical examinations and transportation) are paid by Sertomans. Taking a child to Camp is quite an experience. Generally, a child who has never been to Camp is usually very apprehensive. The following week those arriving to pick the children up for transportation home see that an amazing transformation has taken place. It is not unusual for a child to cling to their counselor and cry because they don’t want to leave. On the way home you should be prepared to hear about every detail of their week at Camp! More than 7,000 children have attended Camp Sertoma. While the overall cost for sending a child to camp in 2016 is $630.00 the cost to the clubs is only $500.00 per camper. The $130 per child difference is paid with income from the endowment fund.
The camp itself offers a unique experience for the children. Programs are professionally planned to meet the needs, interests and abilities of each child. They have the opportunity to participate in group activities and play or work alone or in small groups. Activities are stressed which help children develop independence and responsibility while having a lot of fun! Under supervision, the children might build a campfire, cook a simple meal, or build a raft for an all-camp raft race. The campers get to engage in activities such as nature hikes, archery, sailing, campfires, cookouts, fishing, boat rides, swimming, overnight camp-outs, recreational games, singing, arts and crafts, etc… For some of these children it will be the best week of their young lives.
Another important element of Camp Sertoma is the counselors. They are generally college age students from across the country (mainly from the southeast) whose majors are in communications, elementary education, or parks, recreation and tourism management. Obviously, this is an educational experience for them as well providing some practical hands-on experience. The campers relate well to these young adults and feel very comfortable in this setting.
The camp is run by the Camp Sertoma Board of Trustees comprised of a chairman, co-chairman, treasurer, a trustee from each Sertoma “Area”, and other Sertoma officers. The board meets twice a year and sets policies for the Camp.
The future of the Camp is bright with our endowment in place and continuing participation of Sertoma Clubs statewide. The annual “Camp Sertoma Golf Tournament” has become a major asset in helping the camp maintain financial stability and in 2015 it raised $16,000. Additional funds are provided through the “Camp Sertoma” license plate which can be purchased through the S. C. Department of Motor Vehicles for $94 for a two year tag.
Camp Sertoma is the common thread that runs through the Clubs in our state and helps us focus on what SERvice TO MAnkind is all about. We know that what we do at Camp Sertoma makes a difference in the lives of children from all across the state and contributes to the future strength of South Carolina.