Building Community

by Dave on August 22, 2009

18 Years Later, CAMP Rehoboth Turns The Corner

Created to bring the community at large into Rehoboth’s gay community in order to foster communication and put a personal face on a complicated issue, CAMP Rehoboth has now worked for 18 years to build a better Rehoboth Beach. The results speak for themselves, with gay city commissioners, a strong gay business community and a huge impact on everything that goes on in the town by the ocean.

“For us CAMP Rehoboth has always been about building a community that welcomes everyone—no matter ones sexual orientation, race, gender, beliefs, or age,” says CAMP’s Murray Archibald. “Building bridges between community groups and supporting community activities (gay and straight) continues to be a primary focus. Our original purpose and mission still provides a very relevant and remarkably effective umbrella under which we operate. In many ways we are very close to the original concepts for the organization, but it took us 20 years to get here.”

Now, CAMP Rehoboth is turning the corner to a new phase. Bringing the gay community’s strengths and talents into the broader community and helping to strengthen nonprofits, the arts, citizen groups and other important parts of Rehoboth and the surrounding area.

CAMP Rehoboth was started around 1991 to try and bring the gay and straight communities together. CAMP is an acronym for Create a More Positive Rehoboth This non-profit group of gay volunteers hosted meetings with the police department, commissioners, home owners and more.

“Our goal was to work with the entire community,” says CAMP’s Steve Elkins. “After all, if we were isolated and that led to divisions in the community, we wouldn’t really be a living representation of what the rainbow symbol, long associated with the gay community means.”

The organization provided events for the gay community, reached out to fight discrimination by hosting sensitivity training, and developing good relationships with the local media, police, government and community.

“As time passed, CAMP helped bring everyone together,” says CAMP Rehoboth board member Fay Jacobs. “Rehoboth is still a family town – for all kinds of families.”

The organization has recently completed some upgrades and consolidation in its physical presence on Rehoboth’s Baltimore Avenue.

“We have just opened the brand new community center room and the new courtyard and kiosk, the culmination of many years of fundraising,” says Jacobs. “We are really proud to have two major properties linked together for what we call our CAMPus.”

Beebe Medical Center is one group who has used the new center’s facility.

“We consider this a facility for the whole community, not just the gay community,” says Jacobs.

Jacobs is the Executive Director of the award-winning Rehoboth Beach Main Street and has seen where gay communities in other cities and towns stand.

“I’ve spoken to other communities with large gay and lesbian popluations as part of the Main Street program, but they haven’t gotten organized the way we have,” shares Jacobs. “People were astounded. They said ‘we need what you have.’ They were very jealous. That to me was the best compliment of all.”

“When we were here originally, we tried to educate, make peace, become friends, and now it’s about giving back.”

Now CAMP Rehoboth aims to facilitate a lot of other things. CAMP volunteers are active in the Rehoboth Library, Rehoboth Film Society, YMCA, Rehoboth Beach Main Street, the annual Jazz Fest and many other nonprofits.

“Everything that is good for the whole community is good for the gay community,” adds Jacobs.

In addition, Jacobs and Elkins have conducted sensitivity training for police in different jurisdictions in the area for years, and they are seeing changes in that group as well.

“We always start off asking ‘Who here has a gay relative or friend?’ says Jacobs. “In the beginning, very few hands would go up. Now, more hands are going up and people are more comfortable.”

While challenges remain, particularly in the legislative arena, the more frequent appearance of those positive results shows that CAMP Rehoboth’s message of building community contiunes to resonate.

This article first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, June 25, 2009.

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