Pleasant Ridge Camp & Retreat Center

Private and public sectors join with Recreation District and Children’s Hospital to build approximately $11 million therapeutic-recreation center
Feb. 4, 2009

GREENVILLE, SC -- An innovative collaboration led by Greenville County Recreation District and Greenville Health System (GHS) Children’s Hospital has combined the strength of private and public support to do what no entity could do individually -- build an approximately $11 million facility that will streamline therapeutic recreation needs for children and adults with special needs, disabilities and potentially life-long illness.  

The new Pleasant Ridge Camp & Retreat Center is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of its campers. It will be anchored by Camp Spearhead, a Recreation District camp serving children and adults with special needs and disabilities, and Camp Courage, a Children’s Hospital-led camp for children with cancer and blood disorders. By working together, the organizers will create a one-of-a-kind facility that not only serves campers but makes better use of community resources and avoids duplicating highly specialized facilities.

Organizers foresee the site becoming a national model for therapeutic recreation, with a projected 150 percent increase in capacity the first year alone. Other special-needs camps, ranging from asthma to diabetes and obesity, could eventually take place there as well. Camps Spearhead and Courage already serve patients from a three-state radius.  

“Only an extraordinary collaboration between public and private sectors could have brought this visionary center so close to fruition,” said Gene Smith, executive director of the Recreation District. “What began as parents working to relocate Camp Spearhead has gone way beyond expectations to provide a state-of-the-art permanent camp home to families of children with special needs, disabilities and chronic diseases.”  

The facility will greatly expand and improve the camps’ ability to offer programs virtually year-round, which isn’t possible at the current locations. More than that, it will provide life-changing experiences for these children and adults – and provide invaluable respite to their families.  

The unusual collaboration offers unique opportunities to impact the health and wellness of the community and its residents, says Children’s Hospital Medical Director William Schmidt, M.D., Ph.D.  

“It’s really great when kids with chronic and life-threatening illnesses can get together in a camp setting with other children who have similar medical conditions,” he said. “For a week, they do not stand out as being sick. All of their peers have the same questions and face the same challenges. This is a terrific collaboration -- one that will make many chronically ill children very happy.”

Ground has already been broken on the 40-acre site, located at Pleasant Ridge Park in northern Greenville County off S.C. 11. Construction is underway, with the new facility opening summer 2010.

The multi-use permanent facility will allow Camp Spearhead to nearly double its number of campers to up to 100 per week over eight weeks in the summer. Children’s Hospital-led therapeutic camps could more than double in size to serve 140 children. The center will initially feature eight cabins, with an additional eight planned in future.

The two anchor camps will alternate use of the facility during the summer and on weekends throughout fall and spring. The Recreation District will operate both programs, although the medically-supervised Camp Courage program will continue to be designed by Children’s Hospital and supervised by Children’s Hospital clinicians.  

Novel design features include a pool with zero-depth entry for limited-mobility campers, a sprinkler-like “splash pad,” and high and low ropes course that can accommodate even wheelchairs. All trails will be paved and wheelchair accessible. No one can “age out” of Camp Spearhead, the only special-needs camp in the Southeast to serve adults past age 21. It’s also one of a handful of camps to serve non-ambulatory campers, who require higher levels of care than other camps for individuals with special needs

Other unique features include an enhanced medical infirmary staffed by physicians. For Camp Courage, physicians and nurses actually accompany the children to camp. The new center will also feature a heated pool, which is vital for children with sickle cell disease, for whom a rapid change in temperature could precipitate a stroke or vaso-occlusive crises. Other unique features include an enclosed and climate-controlled drying area adjacent to the swimming pool. The infirmary will also have easy access to ambulance transport.   

More than $8 million has already been pledged for the center. Donors include the following:  

  • $4 million in Greenville County hospitality taxes, specified for tourism-related projects
  • $1.3 million from the Cliff’s Communities
  • $1 million from the State of South Carolina, awarded during the 2007 fiscal year and specified to serve the state’s special needs/disabled population
  • Approximately $1 million from foundations and individual gifts
  • $500,000 from Greenville County Council, awarded in the 2005 fiscal year when Camp Spearhead shifted to control of the Recreation District
  • $300,000 from “Spirit Week” challenges hosted by Travelers Rest, Woodmont, Hillcrest, Wade Hampton, Berea and Greer high schools
  • $225,000 from BI-LO Charities
 At Children’s Hospital alone, BI-LO Charities has given more than $2.7 million in support of pediatric cancer and camps. Camp Courage is part of BI-LO Charities Children’s Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital.

"We applaud the collaboration between Camp Spearhead and the BI-LO Charities Children's Cancer Center," said Carol Browning, executive director of BI-LO Charities. "Both organizations have been recipients of BI-LO Charity Classic grants, and we are very pleased to see the collaboration, which will ensure that children with disabilities and health challenges have an opportunity to enjoy a camp experience. This sharing of resources between two non-profit leaders is not only good stewardship of the community’s generosity but also an example of how non-profits can be more successful together, especially in today’s economy."

Community support has been strong despite a struggling economy.
“Greenville is a giving community, and our banding together has created an economy of scale not otherwise possible,” said Bill Kinard, director of philanthropy and partnership for Children’s Hospital. “By collaborating, we’re able to extend the reach of every dollar we raise.”
Innovative fundraising efforts will include online giving options developed by the Children’s Hospital for its Virtual Toy Drive. For more information, go to or or

Camp Courage’s summer camp and weekend retreats had previously been held at Camp Greystone in Tuxedo, N.C. Physicians said the new location would provide more convenient, timely access to medical care.  

This partnership builds on earlier healthier-community collaborations by GHS and the Recreation District, such as the GHS Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail that is part of an extensive system of safe pathways for biking, walking, running and other activities that encourage physical activity. Studies show that exercise and good nutrition are powerful protection against chronic diseases, which cause almost three-quarters of all deaths in the United States.