5 Star Story: Camp Conquest
MILLINGTON, Tenn. (WMC) - Overnight summer camp is a rite of passage for many kids, but it’s also something kids with special needs or disabilities—roughly 40,000 in the Memphis area alone—might never get the opportunity to enjoy.
This is where the subject of this 5 Star Story comes in. In our quest to showcase the things that make us proud to call this place home, we head to Camp Conquest, where campers of any age, diagnosis or disability can get a true summer camp experience.
Just north of Millington on a gravel road surrounded by trees sits Camp Conquest. According to founder and CEO Mark Price, there are less than two dozen camps like it in the entire U.S.
“There are over 11,000 camps across the country, and of those 11,000 camps, about 10% say they serve special needs and disabilities. But of those 1,100 or so camps, 95% of them, the campers have to be able to bathe themselves, dress themselves and feed themselves. We don’t do that. We throw all that out the window. Our age limit is 8 years or older; our oldest camper is 63,” Price explained. Conquest has campers who are “very high functioning autism, all the way to...we have campers that are nonverbal and in an electric wheelchair with a feeding tube or in the trache.”
Starting in June, the special needs non-profit holds weekly sleep-away camps Monday through Saturday, with many of the campers spending their first-ever night away from home.
And just like any other summer camp there are plenty of activities, like horseback riding, canoeing, zooming across a lake on a 600-foot zipline, as well as archery, arts and crafts, and more.
“I love fishing. I just caught three fish just a few minutes ago,” exclaimed camper James Grantham, who said he’s been coming to Camp Conquest for 5 years.
“We don’t have activities that are only limited to certain campers,” Price said. “All of our activities are designed so that everybody can participate in that.”
Price got the idea for the camp following a meeting with the family of a child with autism.
“And the mom and dad both worked, so they struggled to find a caretaker in the summertime to take care of him. And I just thought after meeting this family, what would it look like to have a place in the summer for him to go and have fun and other kids like him?” he mused.
That was in 2010. And though he’d drawn a map of what he hoped Camp Conquest would look like, Price, an insurance broker by trade, needed help putting that plan into action.
“So I started calling camps around the country that served this population. And there was a camp in Missouri that, after several discussions, they offered to bring a leadership team to Memphis to help us get started,” Price said.
In 2012, Camp Conquest opened on rented property initially, but soon the wait list outgrew the number of campers.
“2018, we had 72 campers on a waiting list,” Price acknowledged. But after purchasing a 78-acre property near Millington in 2019, Camp Conquest is now able to offer six different weekly camps from early June through late July.
Now, the biggest challenge is getting enough volunteer missionary counselors.
“Because for every camper that comes to camp, they’re paired with a counselor for that week. So the campers sleep on the bottom bunks, counselors are on the top bunks. And so, those counselors get up in the morning, get them dressed, they get them bathed, but the icing on the cake is seeing these volunteers that come from all over the country. 82% of our volunteers come from within an hour’s drive of Memphis. The other 18 percent, this summer alone: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Colorado...all over the country,” Price boasted.
The sleep-away concept for Camp Conquest, with an on-site medical team, also serves a purpose for parents.
“This is a community with a much higher divorce rate than the national average. So, it gives the parents a much-needed opportunity for respite,” Price said.
For campers like Grantham’s brother Wells, Camp Conquest is his respite as well. “They do really good things for me,” he said.
While camper Rocco Stout finds it’s an extraordinary camp with extraordinary people and experiences: “I like being here because we have fun, friends,” he explained.
Camp Conquest staff and volunteers are trained prior to campers arriving and the medical team, consisting of one member per cabin, is led by Price’s wife and co-founder, who is also a board-certified nurse practitioner.
For more information about Camp Conquest, click here.
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