The name Amon Carter is synonymous with Fort Worth. For 50 years, he worked tirelessly to promote the city’s interests and is credited more than any other person to have shaped modern Fort Worth.
He was responsible for bringing many major businesses to the city such as Southern Air Transport (now American Airlines), Bell Helicopter and General Dynamics. His legacy lives on today through the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Will Rogers Coliseum, Dallas Love Field, Meacham Airport, WBAP radio, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Casa Mañana Theatre and a cherished camp in west Fort Worth that serves as a special destination for area kids.
When Carter’s son, Amon G. Carter Jr., was 10 years old he went to YMCA Camp Holland, located near Weatherford. After his son had the time of his life and returned home, Amon Carter Sr. began thinking that the Fort Worth YMCA needed to open a camp of its own.
Several years later, Carter Jr. enlisted in the Army and was sent to World War II. While his son was away, Carter Sr. began acquiring land with the intent to create an ideal camp site in Fort Worth. Portions of the previous Carswell airbase were purchased from the US Air Force, and the land to the north, which is now a nature sanctuary, was donated.
During the war, Carter Jr. wrote his father regularly. When the letters all of a sudden stopped, Carter Sr. was consumed with concern. He mentioned his worries to a friend at the Fort Worth YMCA, and using its global connections, the YMCA of Poland located Carter Jr. in a POW camp near Szubin, Poland. The father-son connection was re-established by smuggling letters and packages into the POW camp.
After the discharge of his son, the two moved forward with a plan that had been years in the making. Camp Carter opened its gates in 1948 and has been changing the lives of all who have visited for more than six decades.
Camp Carter is owned and operated by the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth. First a summer camp just for boys, Camp Carter became co-ed in the ‘70s. The camp features 350 acres, including Lake Cottonwood, with a swimming pool, ropes course, basketball and volleyball courts, equestrian center, two archery ranges, a riflery range and athletic fields.
The mission of the camp is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. They do this by providing activities at camp that teach the values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.
Overnight camp is available for kids ages 7 – 16, which runs from early June through the beginning of August. Campers share living quarters with children within their age group. Day Camp is offered to boys and girls ages 6 – 12 and includes a cooked lunch and an afternoon snack.
Throughout the year during Camp Carter’s off-season, outdoor education classes are taught. This educational program was designed to bring the classroom to life by teaching children about the environment, plants and animals. Outdoor education classes are provided to all Fort Worth ISD 5th graders as well as other local schools.
For more than 12 years, Camp Can-Do has been held for one week each summer and is designed for blind and visually impaired children ages 6 – 12. Typically, 20 – 30 children attend the camp each year for this program.
David Hagel, camp program director and self-acclaimed YMCA camp lifer, says that one of the main purposes of Camp Can-Do is to promote independence. “These kids can do anything that anyone else can. They participate in canoeing, archery, swimming, horseback riding, high-challenge course stuff, shooting skeet and riflery. At Camp Can-Do, they learn camp values and know that they are in a loving community and that we are there for them,” Hagel says.
In addition to promoting independence, the camp is about encouraging self-esteem, promoting lifelong skills in recreation and leisure, and promoting lasting relationships. Hagel says, “Kids at camp can open up and hang out with other kids that are going through similar things.”
Hagel is responsible for coordinating retreats as well. “We bring in many community organizations throughout the year like Cook Children’s, the American Diabetes Association and Cancer Care Services.”
It’s the YMCA’s feeling of social responsibility to its community that recently led them to set a goal of sending 40 kids from West and Granbury, affected by the devastating explosion and tornado, to Camp Carter for a week of overnight camp. Transportation to and from camp was provided, and toiletries and other needs were met as well.
Planting the Seed
There are two leadership programs at Camp Carter. Counselors in Training (CIT’s) is an overnight program for kids aged 15 – 16. For children aged 13 and up, a day camp program is available called Leaders in Training (LIT’s). The purpose of the programs is to encourage teens to become leaders rather than followers and have confidence in themselves and what they can achieve.
While Camp Carter Unit Director John Coleman did not attend the leadership program, he has been working summers overseeing camp activities since 2007. As a Fort Worth native, Coleman says it means a lot to him to be able to give back to the community by making sure everyone who visits camp will “let loose and escape, no matter what may be happening in their lives.” Of all the campers from different backgrounds that visit, Coleman says there are some he remembers more than others. “I never forget those kids who come here and are homesick at first, and by the end of the week, you can’t get them to leave.”
Local dog trainer, Bunny Snyder, said she was never one to feel homesick. Snyder’s summer childhood memories include visits to camp with her brother from around 4th grade through her freshman year of high school. Her mother sat on the board of directors for YMCA Fort Worth years before her children started attending camp. “We practically stayed all summer. I think we went to every session they had. My brother and I lived at the horse stables, and we would compete in rodeos against other camps,” Snyder says.
Camp Carter Alumni Jamie Cashion spent his first summer at camp in 1974 at the age of 7. Today Cashion is a successful entrepreneur who has fronted a spectrum of local ventures, but he is best known for his volunteerism in the community and for being a fundraising phenom. For the last 25 years, Cashion has given his time to teach karate to underprivileged kids, and he is currently involved with SPARK Worldwide, which serves, protects and raises kids locally and worldwide.
It’s due to his fervor to help children that Cashion strongly endorses Camp Carter’s mission and is thankful for the values instilled during those early years he spent at summer camp. His fondest memories are of the excursions Camp Carter used to offer. “I took trips with a group to Red River, Big Bend National Park and to a horse camp at Possum Kingdom. The horse trip when I was in the sixth grade was super special because I met a fantastic girl and fell in love. I must say that of all of my camp memories, this trip is one of my fondest,” Cashion says.
And just like the campers who can’t wait for their next visit, the return rate among camp counselors is incredibly high. “Here at camp, the same counselors come back year after year. You make great friends with everyone you work with, and those bonds and that unity will last forever,” Coleman says.
Maybe that’s the magic that Carter Sr. and his son had in mind when the gates were opened 65 years ago.