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Camp program develops leadership skills in Appalachian teens

Submitted by mmoreno on Tue, 09/04/2018 - 13:46

By: Tina Bryson

McKEE, Ky. — Camp AJ has been a summer retreat for Hannah Thomas since she was seven years old and she has come back every year since. This year marked her second year, not as a camper, but as a junior counselor as a part of Christian Appalachian Project’s Leaders in Training program.

“I struggled with a home life that was hard, and every summer I was like ‘I’m looking forward to Camp AJ,’” she said with a wide grin. “It was kind of like my getaway. I feel like some kids that come to Camp AJ struggle with their home lives too so they come here to get away. I feel like that’s a big part of it. They get to come for a week, have fun, be around cool campers and cool counselors, so I feel like that’s a big part of Camp AJ.”

Thomas had struggled with social anxiety before becoming a junior counselor (JC) last year, but the leadership program works to develop leadership skills in promising teens across Eastern Kentucky.

“When I first started being a JC, it really helped me come out of my shell and actually talk to the kids,” she said. “I also came away with a new perspective of what camp is about, what counselors do. Counselors work so hard behind the scenes, campers don’t really see that. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Being a counselor at Camp AJ is like having a second family.”

Mike O’Brien coordinator of Camp AJ acknowledged the contribution of junior counselors like Thomas. “Hannah has been such a great success story of our leadership program. She has grown into such a thoughtful young woman and having her at camp this summer was truly like having a seasoned counselor. Her maturity, decision making, empathy for younger campers, and enthusiasm really went above and beyond our expectations.”

Thomas knows that the summer has gone by quickly so she has turned her attention to her upcoming school year since she will be a senior at Madison Southern High School. She’s looking for a job to help save for college where she hopes to attend the University of the Cumberlands and pursue a degree in English education and theater arts.

O’Brien concluded, “Having junior counselors like Hannah at camp is great. They are visible reminders of what our campers can aspire to be and they are a huge help around camp. Being a JC gives them work experience and gives them the opportunity to work hard and learn to meet expectations. teaches them of working a job and learning what hard work and meeting expectations is like.

For more information on Christian Appalachian Project’s summer camps, visit

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