Camp Palmer: Relationships that Matter

June 15, 2016

If you were to take I-59 North out of Birmingham, AL and drive for a good 100 miles or so, you’d come to the town of Mentone, AL just before you crossed the Georgia state line.  It rests peacefully upon Lookout Mountain, in the southern foothills of the Appalachians, with a population well under 500 residents.  That is, until summer arrives.

Beginning in late May and continuing through August, campers and staffers descend upon the quaint town to enjoy one of Mentone’s eight different summer camps situated along various mountain streams and hideaways.  One can hardly blame them- the location couldn’t be more perfect.  Between the waterfalls and expansive blue skies, shady trees and mountain breezes, it’s the ideal getaway for any young person looking for a summer of fun!

In the late 1960s, Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC) in Memphis, TN began the now long-standing tradition of taking the residents of Palmer Home for Children to Camp Desoto in Mentone, along with their own children and youth.  It began as a kind-hearted gesture on the part of Dr. Hugh Francis, who learned that the caregivers of Palmer Home had very limited time away from the children in their care.  It was decided that the church could provide two weeks of vacation for them by creating a fun-filled camp experience for the children.  Members of the church brought their families along and cared for children of Palmer Home as well, and Dr. Frances served as camp director! Nearly 50 years later, their gift continues in the form of Camp Palmer.

Today, Phil and Marsha Hurt, directors of Camp Desoto, allow IPC access to their facilities the week before their summer schedule begins.  The adults of IPC come together to fund and staff Camp Palmer.  All school-aged children are welcome to attend, with the oldest students often helping run the games and events.  The students can participate in a variety of activities ranging from archery or canoeing to horseback riding or beading jewelry.  In addition to all the outdoor fun, great relationships have formed between the members of Palmer Home and IPC.

In fact, Palmer Home’s current Vice President of Rescue, Robert Farris, was first introduced to Palmer Home through Camp Palmer. As a young youth minister at the church he was told that he was in charge of running Camp Palmer.  His response at the time was confusion, but now he has a different perspective.  “I think Camp Palmer has been an incredible camp both for IPC and Palmer Home because it’s been a way to continually develop relationships between our children and their children; our families and their families.  That’s really how I came to know and love Palmer Home- through relationships established at Camp Palmer.”

Blakely Fletcher, a member of IPC, says those strong relationships are what make Camp Palmer such a meaningful tradition. “All the different ages of children come together- both IPC and Palmer Home. They’re completely unplugged and free to just be kids. They play in the woods and ride horses and catch fish- things they didn’t know they could do!” She’s been coming for four years now, with her whole family, and her husband acts as Camp doctor.  “The bonds continue,” she says. “Those friendships grow every year as they reunite here at Camp Palmer.”