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Community helps send kids to camp

MANATEE — For the first time ever, 9-year-old Joel Rodriguez got the chance to attend summer camp.

“I went fishing, canoeing and a little bit of hiking and I never did that before,” Joel said Friday, just moments after returning from the Salvation Army’s Adventure Corps Camp at Camp Keystone in Starke.

Had it not been for donations from the community, Joel may not have had the chance to attend.

The Manatee County Chapter of the Salvation Army this summer is sending dozens of local under-privileged children to one of its 10 camp sessions.

Each week-long camp cost about $200, with specialty camps like music conservatory, which run two to four weeks, averaging $1,500 per camper.

Families are only asked to pay $20 per camper for any session, which allows children who may not ordinarily be able to afford it to attend, said Christine Smith, director of community relations and development for the local Salvation Army. The remainder of camp funding is through donations from the local community.

“I’m only working part-time and my husband is in school so the cost of any other camp program is beyond what we could afford,” said Joel’s mother, Maribel Garcia, of Bradenton. “Thanks to The Salvation Army, my son now got to experience camp.”

“The kids really get a great variety of things to participate in at each camp session,” said Lt. Faith Welch, assistant corps officer and youth programs director. “Not only do they have a ton of fun swimming and playing sports, they also participate in Bible study and character-building activities.”

Robert Coleman, 13, said he was thankful he attended camp this week because he made new friends, including Joel.

“I’m personally grateful for it because I just need to get out and do stuff, and had it not been for help from others I might not have had the chance to go,” Robert said.

Anyone interested in sponsoring a child for camp can call (941) 748-5110 or e-mail