Whether it’s a water balloon battle or bouncing around a trampoline park, there is always something happening at Mocs Adventure Camp. The atmosphere is hectic and electric as kids from kindergarten to eighth grade experience all that Campus Recreation at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has to offer.
Stationed in the Aquatics and Recreation Center, campers beat the summer heat by swimming every day, playing games, sports, and other activities.
Every week, campers go on a field trip adventure, including visiting the jump park, a bowling alley, roller skating rink and Nooga Splash Park. Campers from sixth to eighth grades also get to experience archery, canoeing and an escape room.
The camp lasts eight weeks, from June 5 to Aug. 4. Parents can choose the weeks their children attend.
The camp has grown in its three years of operation. As camp director, Craig Gosnell is largely responsible for the camp’s inception.
“I built this program during COVID. My numbers say we came out about $7,000 in the negative the first year. Last year we brought in $32,000 in the positive. This year we are currently at about $45,000 in the positive. So that’s after all the labor, all the field trips, all the buses. So, we’re growing every year,” said Gosnell.
It’s not all fun and games for Gosnell. He uses camp to bring kids from different backgrounds together and build connections through play.
“Some of our campers have lots of money and resources. Other campers are in foster care or have a history of abuse. We use play as a form of social justice to kind of break down those social barriers,” said Gosnell.
To expand access to the camp, need-based scholarships cover the cost of participation for multiple campers every week.
This isn’t Gosnell’s first rodeo. He has experienced the power of play as a tool to bring people together throughout his career. He said his most striking example of the power of play took place in a camp overseas.
“In Russia, I worked with third and fourth grade (students). I could say a few things like stop, go and run to facilitate games. I don’t speak Russian, but I could play with any of those kids. Every person plays; it’s a universal language. If you can facilitate it right, you can bring people together,” said Gosnell.
Campers are not the only ones who benefit from the experience. Students at UTC get to experience the camp as counselors. For some, it even changes the course of their college career.
Kimmi Dawson, a rising UTC senior from Kimball, Tennessee, said she has fallen in love with the camp.
“Last year, I was a camp counselor. I only did it because at the time I was going into physical therapy, and I was thinking about pediatrics. So, I got a job for the summer working with kids. I had the best summer of my entire life. It was like getting to relive my childhood, and I got paid for it,” said Dawson.
This summer she is working as the assistant camp director and has changed her major to elementary education. Through her work with the camp, she discovered her passion for working with kids.
She said she most enjoys working with kids because of “being able to be someone who is there for them, but who isn’t as scary as normal authority figures. Because when I was little, I was super shy and scared of adults. I needed someone that could be there to talk to. I just try to be that person that I needed when I was a kid.”
For kids who are a little shy, Amaius Bell, a 5-year-old camper who attended the camp’s first week, has some advice on building connections.
After a long day at the jump park, he said, “I jumped and jumped and made a new friend.”
When asked how he made a new friend, he described the events as follows.
“I was throwing some things at her, and she said, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Then, I stopped and followed her, and then we were friends.”