A crowdfunding effort launched in partnership with the West Virginia University Foundation aims to inspire and encourage middle-schoolers in southern West Virginia via Tomorrow is Mine, a summer camp held this week at WVU Tech in Beckley.
The camp returns this summer following a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students ages 10-12 are invited from nine rural counties – including Boone, Fayette, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, Mingo, Raleigh, Summers, and Wyoming – with 40 expected to attend.
The crowdfunding effort seeks to raise $15,000 through June 30 to support camp programming in the years to come. Participants attend free of charge, so the camp relies on financial and in-kind donations from organizations, businesses, universities and individual donors to cover costs.
The camp’s name – Tomorrow is Mine – reflects the mindset Dr. Larry Rhodes wants to instill in young participants. Rhodes, assistant dean for health sciences programs at the University’s Beckley Campus, executive director of rural programs for the Health Sciences Center and professor for the School of Medicine’s Division of Pediatric Cardiology, founded the camp with Dr. John Brick and his late brother, Dr. Jim Brick, to offer new opportunities for students from rural West Virginia communities where students may often be discouraged from dreaming big.
“I believe everything that puts us on top of every bad list and the bottom of every good list can be traced back to this feeling of hopelessness,” Rhodes said. “The hope of the camp is that we can instill into these kids that their future can be every bit as bright as anyone else’s.”
The camp brings in experts from different fields to teach students about creative subjects like music and art, while also exposing them to science, technology, engineering and math skills. Many lessons are interactive, such as sculpting with artist Jamie Lester, learning to perform CPR, and learning to extinguish an outdoor fire with the Beckley Fire Department. This year’s campers will see a concert, go bowling, visit the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, and more.
Past camp counselor Gerald Rader, a graduate of the WVU School of Medicine and a current psychiatry resident in New Hampshire, said he sees the importance of the camp, particularly as someone who hails from a similar area.
“I have friends who I went to high school with that have died of drug overdoses,” Rader said. “I have friends who I went to high school with that are really struggling a lot of the time. A lot of it’s due to the socioeconomic factors at play in southern West Virginia.”
Throughout the week, campers learn to perservere, make friends, collaborate and combat peer pressure. On top of that, campers are also educated on healthy lifestyle habits such as eating a balanced diet, exercising daily, and saying “no” to drugs. Of course, Rhodes still wants the camp to be fun more than anything.
“I want them to be educated, I want them to have fun, and I don’t want them to know the difference when they’re at camp,” Rhodes said.
Demand for the camp has grown exponentially, with more incoming applications than ever before. Rhodes says the camp has grown, but organizers cannot accommodate more campers in the future without additional funding.
While the camp has received larger donations – such as one from the Cline Family Foundation – in the past, those funds have dwindled in recent years.
Gifts to support the crowdfunding effort can be made securely online at a dedicated crowdfunding page. All contributions are made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.