Community generosity makes fun-filled DOW Camp possible every summer

DOW campers, counselors and staff, wearing their trademark tie-dye shirts, gather for a photo to express their thanks for the donations and community support that makes it possible for Douglas, Ozark and Wright county children to attend the yearly camp, which was held last week near Dora.

DOW campers dance the night away at the Thursday night dance, a long-time tradition at the annual summer camp.

Camp volunteer Kris Ledbetter, along with a little help from grandson Dwight Collins, prepares pizza for the campers. Ledbetter, in her 13th year of volunteering at the camp, makes sure the campers have lots of delicious food while they're at camp.

Every June, for more than 50 years, Ozark County children, along with youth from Douglas and Wright counties, have had the opportunity to spend a week at DOW Camp, thanks to the generosity of local people and businesses. Many of the children who attend the camp, which is held at Hammond Mill Youth Camp near Dora, wouldn't be able to attend if it weren't for the charitable contributions received each year.

This year was extra special, according to retired Children's Division social worker Karla Smith, who has volunteered at the camp for the past 30 years. DOW Camp volunteers always struggle to make ends meet financially in spite of the generosity of the community, but this year, Smith started a social media fundraiser for the camp that  brought in $3,360. In addition, many people and local businesses made donations in response to letters from John Harlin of Century Bank of the Ozarks. 

The campers thought it was an extra special year, too, according to young Kelsey Green, who stayed in cabin 12 during her time at camp. "Karla, thank you so much for letting us go to camp," she wrote in a note to Smith. "I had more fun this year than I ever have!"

"The staff, counselors and mostly the campers at DOW Camp would like to thank each and every person who donated to this year's camp," Smith said. "Because of the kindness of so many, 98 kids were able to experience a week of making memories! There is no way to explain how special this camp is. Knowing there are so many who want to see it continue year after year is truly a blessing."

Campers, who range in age from 7 to 12, take part in a host of activities during the week such as acting in skits, dancing, swimming, games, crafts, camp sing-alongs and tie-dying T-shirts. 

In his story published in the Oct. 1, 2014, edition of the Times, David Pearson, a camper who later became a counselor, recalled fond memories of DOW Camp activities. “Every day was full of new and fun group activities,” he wrote. “Early mornings we gathered around the flagpole to honor our great country and sing everyone’s favorite camp songs. Then we all lined up and headed into the mess hall for the meal together. Most days we would break into groups for age-appropriate play or some other activity, arts and crafts, or an educational lesson.

“One highlight of the week was that every cabin put on a skit for the entire camp,” Pearson wrote. “Not to brag, but I was known for putting on some of the best skits in my era. My cabin was three-time champs, to be exact!”

Pearson went on to say how much all those summers at camp meant to him during his childhood and teen years. “I simply cannot adequately describe my experiences at DOW camp and what they meant to me and those I shared them with,” he wrote. “I owe DOW Camp, and all the great people who made it possible all those years, a debt of gratitude.” 

Cameron Yeager, who has been involved with DOW Camp for five years, understands how meaningful the camp is to kids who attend. “DOW Camp holds a special place in my heart,” Yeager said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for kids who might not get the privilege of attending a summer camp to come and enjoy a week full of activities, camaraderie and life values. It’s great that the people of Douglas, Ozark and Wright counties have continued to support this camp.” 

Misty Souder has been a volunteer at the camp for more than 20 years, continuing a family legacy that started with her uncle, Don Pinkney, who has been on staff at the camp for 44 years and now serves as camp co-director alongside Karla Smith. “DOW Camp has been a part of me since I was 14,” Souder said. “My Uncle Don asked me to come, and I fell in love with it. I saw how it gave children an opportunity to be a kid and not worry about the struggles they could be facing in life. It also taught me I was very blessed as a child and to not take it for granted.  

“Now, as an adult, I love it even more. It’s fun for the staff to come up with activities for our campers to do. Seeing all those smiles on their faces makes it worth it.  This year I watched first-timers fall in love with it like I did, and that lets me know DOW camp will be around for many more years. It truly is the place to be!” she said.

Long-time volunteer Nancy Leonhard, who now lives in Kansas City, made a special trip to volunteer at camp this year. "It had been 12 years since I helped at DOW Camp," she said. "I sincerely missed it every year. Life had taken me to KC, and a family and job kept me busy. In May, I saw a need for donations for DOW and gave immediately, then realized that this year, I could do more. This year, my two teenage girls and I would go and serve. We left camp Friday, worn out and bug-bitten, but more so, our hearts were full. This last week was full of laughter, singing, dancing, playing, learning and just good, old-fashioned fun. We went to camp to love on these kids, but I'm pretty sure we walked away blessed more!"

Camp co-director Karla Smith, along with many members of her family and a host of friends who also volunteer their time at the camp each year, has seen firsthand what DOW Camp means to children who get to attend. "It's a time for kids to be kids with no worries," she said. "I sat there on Thursday night, watching them all having so much fun at the dance and hearing them talk about wanting to stay more days. It made my heart so full. Some of them go home to tough lives. We want camp to be a week full of fun, good food and great memories."

Thanks to the generosity of the people in the Ozarks and the volunteer spirit of people like Karla Smith, Misty Souder, Don Pinkney and so many others, it looks promising that DOW Camp will continue to be a very special week in the lives of area children each summer.

To donate, make checks payable to DOW Camp and send to John L. Harlin, Century Bank of the Ozarks, P.O. Box 68, Gainesville, MO 65655.

Ozark County Times

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Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423