Editor’s note: This is a weekly series of Department Spotlight stories featuring unique programs and initiatives of departments throughout The American Legion. Department adjutants are invited to recommend subjects for their departments by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
William Kesting wanted to create an environment where youth could come together to enjoy recreational activities and to feel safe. That envisioned space became a reality for the late past commander of The American Legion Department of Maryland in 1981 when he signed a 99-year lease, for only $1 a year, with the State of Maryland for 30 acres of land in Cheltenham. With support from the department, the Southern Maryland District Youth Camp was established.
“The youth have so many things today that they can get in trouble with, so we give them a safe area to go. We let them be kids at the camp,” Bill Milligan, adjutant of Post 115 in Upper Marlboro, Md.
The camp is available to youth organizations nationwide, and due to its popularity, has housed several veterans groups as well.
Youth programs that utilize the camp yearly include Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Young Marines and Civil Air Patrol, all American Legion youth-supported programs. The programs use the space to host retreats, leadership training, and even just for camping purposes if they are touring the memorials in Washington, D.C.
The camp recently hosted a group of wounded warriors for a rest and relaxation week, and Legion Riders use the camping grounds during participation in Rolling Thunder.
“The word about the youth camp has gotten around, and we are pretty booked for the rest of this year,” Milligan said.
The Southern Maryland Youth Camp features 15 acres of land for camping and hiking, two miles of nature trails, a large amphitheater with a stage, benches and a fire pit, a playground and open fields for recreational activities. Over the years the Youth Camp Board of Directors and Youth Camp Operations Committee has held fundraisers and received grants from the state to build a gazebo, meeting hall with a kitchen, a co-ed bath house, and five cabins that each sleep 34 with privates rooms for counselors. The meeting hall is rented out for weddings and birthday parties.
“I talk with the youth program leaders and I hear that there are not enough facilities around like our youth camp where they can bring kids in and they can learn,” Milligan said. “They are learning life experiences here.”
The board of directors is comprised of Legionnaires from the department and southern Maryland district, while the committee is comprised of two representatives from each of the six counties in southern Maryland, as well as an Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion member. “It’s an American Legion family affair,” Milligan said. The committee is responsible for the maintenance and day to day operations of the youth camp, while those who rent the space are required to do their own setup and cleanup. There is a small cost associated with usage of the camp, such as a cabin and camping fee.
The Southern Maryland Youth Camp’s overall mission is to:
• Nurture traditional values, support democratic ideals and provide educational opportunities that may not otherwise be available;
• Promote a better understanding of nature through a direct interface with the environment;
• Teach youth how to live in harmony with their environment in order to promote the preservation of natural resources;
• Provide camping and recreational facilities for all organized youth groups; and
• Provide facilities for picnics, hikes, athletic contests and other events.
Youth groups and others wishing to stay at the camp must submit an application 90 days prior to the requested date of use. To request an application, email Bill Milligan at email@example.com or call (301) 782-3338.