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By Jennifer Corbett
Just call him “Rayface.” He is in charge of fun.
“Rayface,” whose real name is Ray Dalrymple, the disaster service and service extension director for the Salvation Army, tells this to his “Paradise Valley” campers as soon as they meet him.
Dalrymple, who has worked at the camp for almost 20 years, also tells the kids that he is Santa Claus’s cousin and even helps take care of the reindeer.
At “Paradise Valley,“ located next to the Kentucky/ Tennessee state line, campers partake in a variety of events such as crafts, scavenger hunts, boating, fishing, swimming and bible classes. This year about 23 kids ranging in ages from 7 to 12 years old from Washington County had a chance to attend the camp.
Lauren Nance said her 12-year-old son Marcus counted down the days till he could attend for his last year.
“He was really excited to go again,” she said.
Dalrymple said the camp tries to teach character building skills, teamwork, the 10 commandments and for the campers to be aware of the creator.
Though Dalrymple was quick to note that they don’t try to push the religion on the kids, they just try to show it. The camp welcomes children of all religious backgrounds.
“Even if someone is a atheist, they’ll have a good time at camp,” he said. “(The camp) is more of a social camp, than a spiritual camp.”
Dalrymple said a normal day for the kids would include cleaning the cabins once they woke up, then meeting to raise the American flag where the counselors would usually tell them of some facts about the flag. Then it’s onto breakfast, after the campers head to bible study followed by a myriad of activities, with each cabin as a team.
Dalrymple noted that he likes to give each of the kids a prize if there is a competition.
“(We) don’t want to leave any kid out when it comes to a prize,” he said.
Even if there isn’t a competition, Dalrymple likes to reward the kids. He even bought about $200 worth of candy to hand out.
“If a kid does something great, it’ll give them a pickup saying ‘hey, you did good,” he said.
Dalrymple said the staff does let the kids know that they won’t always win in life and that’s ok.
There are some campers who don’t want to participate in the activities and Dalrymple said the counselors try to get them involved.
“When we see a kid not participating we show them a little more attention,” he said.
One activity that the campers enjoy the most is swimming, Dalrymple added.
“They even keep track of which cabin gets to swim the most,” he said.
Dalrymple said another favorite activity the campers is “messy games night,” which usually involves food. For example, Dalrymple said kids might have their hands behind their back while trying to eat a bowl of banana pudding.
Dalrymple said the best part about his job is seeing campers know more about God on Friday than they did on Monday.
He loves seeing the progress in campers, adding “that’s worth something.”
Charissa Hodgens, a volunteer at the camp, said she has also seen changes in the campers. For example, one year two boys didn’t like each other and by the end of camp, she said they could tolerate each other.
But if campers do act up, Dalrymple said they are punished. What usually happens is the camper must sit on a porch swing separated from the rest of the kids. They are supervised the entire time.
Dalrymple said the campers refer to this process as “camp jail.”
Even at 65, Dalrymple still enjoys spending two weeks out of every summer down at “Paradise Valley” camp and said anyone is invited to attend the camp.
He said without the help of the Washington County School Board, the camp would not have been such a success this year.
Hodgens said the camp is beneficial for the kids.
“They just have a lot of fun doing things they normally wouldn’t do,” she said.