The summer camp experience has been an integral part of Eastern Kentucky University sociology student Hannah Thomas’ life for a long time.
The Berea native attended Camp AJ, one of two overnight camp experiences sponsored by the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), for the first time the week of her seventh birthday. She was pleasantly surprised when the entire camp helped celebrate her birthday with cake and banana pudding.
The joy she experienced during that week cemented Thomas’ love for Camp AJ and how it can serve as a transformational experience for children. She returned to camp every summer she could and continued to volunteer with CAP during her early teenage years.
Today, Thomas serves as an intern with CAP’s Youth Empowerment Services Program. She helps plan leadership events for teenagers, helps elementary students with reading during after-school programs and assists with plans for summer camp. Serving as an intern with CAP has provided valuable experiences for Thomas.
“It definitely built my confidence because dealing with kids requires a mature mindset,” she said. “I have seen almost every side of camp, from being a camper, a junior counselor, a counselor and now an intern.”
Right now, a major portion of Thomas’ internship is making plans for this summer’s camping experiences, hopefully reaching a new generation of campers with the unconditional love and support that she remembers receiving as a child.
“This will be my first summer as a full counselor,” she said. “My favorite aspect of camp is hearing all of the excitement from the campers and how you can feel it in the air. For example, at the opening campfire, the excitement from the kids is out the world and they never miss a beat. It truly is rewarding!”
Thomas will continue to volunteer with CAP, even after her graduation from EKU in the fall of 2022. Eventually, she hopes to fulfill a dream of working full-time for the organization.
“Serving with CAP means the world to me,” she said. “It means that I can give back to a community that once took me under their wing when I was a little girl. The camp community and CAP in general has been so giving to me, especially during college. But it feels good and helps grow my passion for service, knowing that I am making a difference in a child’s life!”