Camp Arrowhead has been the place to make childhood memories for more than 60 years.
The 110-acre camp, tucked away near the end of Camp Arrowhead Road on Rehoboth Bay, has provided outdoor activities on land and water for countless numbers of children and staff since 1954, when the Episcopal Church in Delaware took over ownership.
But, according to Executive Director Walt Lafontaine, a crossroads has been reached, and the camp must upgrade its 58-year-old main dining hall-retreat center for now and the future. The existing structure is undersized and not available in cold weather because it does not have central heat.
Facility will be open all year
The new dining hall and retreat facility – named the Jane Clifton Ashford Center – will increase from the existing 5,800 square feet to 10,000 square feet and include a new kitchen doubled in size with a grilling station, kitchen garden, rainwater collection tank, outdoor classroom, reception area, gathering and dining terrace, welcome plaza and butterfly garden.
The existing bell tower, named in honor of longtime cook Delma Batson, will be moved to the terrace. The center will have a fireplace with three separate dining halls.
Bids for the project will go out in late March, and groundbreaking for the new facility is scheduled for Aug. 15 followed by demolition of the old building starting Aug. 16. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the first week of June 2022, just in time for summer camp.
Lafontaine said the new facility will enable the camp to provide a year-round venue with a focus on weddings. “We'll have a state-of-the-art building and kitchen in a secluded, protected area with a beach. We think this venue can become a real asset to the wedding industry,” he said.
Lafontaine said proceeds from rentals will provide funding for more scholarships.
The camp also has a new outdoor covered pavilion named in honor of Bishop Wayne Wright that was completed last June.
Other recent and ongoing work is improving the camp. The property has been hooked into the Sussex County central sewer system, and an office expansion-renovation project is currently underway.
Ring the Bell campaign
Even taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ring the Bell capital campaign to raise $4.5 million has exceeded all expectations, Lafontaine said. He said $800,000 remains to complete the capital campaign. “We've achieved all of the fundraising so far without really going public,” he said. “It's been amazing.”
Now the public is being asked to support the project.
The campaign got off to a great start. The Episcopal Diocese pledged $500,000, and the Ashford family of Wilmington donated $1 million to name the new facility the Jane Clifton Ashford Center. “The family has a strong connection to Camp Arrowhead, and we can't thank them enough,” Lafontaine said.
That was followed by a $500,000 grant from the Carl M. Freeman Foundation, a $500,000 grant from Crystal Trust, $200,000 in pledges from the Ellice and Rosa McDonald Foundation, a $500,000 anonymous donation from a family foundation, and a $100,000 gift from the Reese family.
Lafontaine said local businesses and organizations have continued to support the camp as they have done for years.
He added that several other foundations are being approached for donations, and major donors are anticipated to provide in-kind gifts for construction materials, equipment and services.
Lafontaine said there was no way the building could be modified to meet the camp's needs and serve the 1,300 campers and more than 100 staffers who come each summer. He said the committee was ready to announce the campaign last year when the COVID-19 state of emergency was instituted.
“Committee members decided to go ahead with it because in times of stress like these, people need to look to a brighter future,” he said.
The original goal was boosted another $500,000 to provide scholarship funding for low-income children and groups.
Lafontaine said smaller donations have also been collected from alumni and others familiar with the camp.
Go to camparrowhead.net for more information about making donations.
Camp will resume this summer
Because of the pandemic, all sessions were canceled last summer, but plans are moving ahead to have camp this summer at 55 percent capacity, or about 85 campers, Lafontaine said.
Registration for this summer was filled in three days with a waiting list underway. Camp staff will modify programming to meet health restrictions, and maintain a safe environment for staff and campers.
Normally, the camp is filled every summer with as many as 160 weekly and two-week overnight campers. Day camp for younger children is also offered.
As many as 100 staffers are hired each summer. “Even open at 55 percent, we are going to need the bulk of our normal staff. We are going to have a deficit at the end of the year,” Lafontaine said.
He said nearly 90 percent of annual revenue comes from registration fees.
Even so, the always optimistic Lafontaine said, “We all have to be patient and have faith things are going to get better.”
Camp Arrowhead is in Lafontaine's blood. He attended the camp in the 1960s, served on staff in the 1970s, was named director in 1981 and became executive director in 2014. His sister, brother and nieces and nephews have worked at the camp.
About Camp Arrowhead
The coeducational camp is open for children in grades two through 11 with day camps for youngsters in grades two through five. Programs include sailing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, yoga, archery, dancing, camp crafts, boating and environmental education. The camp has its own nature center, a high- and low-ropes course, climbing wall and zip line.
Once camping season is over, the site becomes a retreat center with various programming and lodging options.