Camp Days

Camp Days
New Life Camp hopes to breathe new life into its facilities

by Jessie Ammons
photographs courtesy of New Life Camp

The intersection of Falls of Neuse and Durant roads in North Raleigh is a typical suburban business area: There’s a Kohl’s and Harris Teeter, and across the street, a Walgreens; WakeMed North’s women’s and family hospital anchors the northeast corner. Then there’s the strikingly verdant northwest quadrant with its stone-flanked sign: New Life Camp. 

Since 1950, thousands of Raleigh area youth have flocked here for summer camp and idyllic fun on 72 wooded acres with a natural lake, zip line, water slide, pool, trails, go-kart track, frisbee-golf course, basketball courts, soccer field, climbing wall, low ropes course, craft cabin, and snack shack.

Since 1950, those amenities have hardly changed. “It’s charming, basic, dormitory-style camping,” says executive director Greg Burton. “Kids absolutely love it,” but Burton knows the 67-year-old buildings are nearing the end of their lifespan. It’s why he and the camp’s board of directors launched a first-ever capital campaign in March. They aim to raise $3 million by August and almost $8 million total for new cabins and facilities. “This isn’t a want as much as it’s a desire to steward the camp into the next generation.” Demand remains high, and he wants to keep it that way: Overnight sessions fill up months in advance and run all summer long.

‘Get away from the noise’

Through the generations, the Christian camp has grown its mission as the city has grown around it. Counselors and staff are quick to share their non-denominational faith, but camp at New Life is less about religion and more about simple opportunities to play and for fellowship. “Not many kids get to run around in the woods and play in lakes around here anymore,” Burton says. “We want to give kids that experience. This is a place to get away from the noise in a fun, safe environment. A place to hear and think and listen.”

Over the years, the camp has gradually added play facilities: an indoor basketball gym in 1999, a pool in 2009, soccer fields in 2010, and another basketball gym along the way. “We believe that young men and women need Christ, but they also just need a place to get away. … No matter what they believe, these tools and these spaces give us opportunities to build great relationships with kids. To play basketball with kids. To hang out with kids. That’s all we want.”

Kids ages 8 – 18 are the primary focus, but Burton says the need for a place to escape to nature in North Raleigh is evident. “Camp used to be way out in the sticks and it’s just not anymore.” The surrounding community eagerly takes advantage of its nearby beauty: Local bible studies meet in the dining hall, area homeschool sports leagues use the gyms, and nonprofits use the cabins and the outdoor spaces. “We want to love any and everybody well, and we can do that using the tools we have.”

This is where the capital campaign comes in: cabins without air conditioning are charming but impractical, and the worship/community center is so old that the cost of renovating it exceeds that of replacing it. Basic modern construction would be a game-changer. It would include air conditioning, bathrooms in every building (right now campers share one bathroom cabin), maybe even a few “bells and whistles” like a good ’ol screened porch. “We’ll be able to use the new cabins year-round, and that is going to allow us to say yes to our community. We’re saying no right now to lots of groups that could be here.”

As of press time, New Life Camp has raised $1 million plus a $400,000 matching donation pledge, which means it’s on its way to the $3 million August goal. Burton is optimistic because he believes his request is not on his behalf, not even on his camp’s behalf, but rather on behalf of the larger community and its future. “Why would I want buildings sitting when I could be using them? Everything is spiritual for us, but to take the spiritual side out of it, we want to serve our community. For us to invite a nonprofit to use our space is a blessing. We want more and more of that.”