In effort to help youth, Willard police chief develops Camp Character
WILLARD — A short drive from downtown Willard, a 49-acre tract of city-owned land has become a labor of love for Police Chief Tom McClain.
McClain rallied community support in 2017 to establish Camp Character, an outgrowth of Willard's Police Athletic League that subscribes to many of the lessons taught in the preventative Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E. program.
"I like for kids to understand that you decide what happens to you," he said. "It provides us a venue to help and it's a really solid resource for kids."
The camp, just a five-minute drive from the Willard Police Department, was created to give children and teens — some of whom have struggled in the past — a safe place to explore the outdoors, engage in healthy play and master new skills.
The acreage was virtually untouched when McClain started the process.
Since 2009, the Police Athletic League has offered a range of activities for youth and ample interaction with police officers. The PAL has offered youth boxing, jujitsu and outdoor events.
The camp, an outgrowth of that program, offers camping, bonfires, orienteering, hiking and other activities.
The camp emphasizes character and leadership skills including responsibility, honor, discernment and self-control. The effort was the winner of the 2018 Missouri Municipal League's Innovation Award.
City Administrator Bradley Gray said McClain's vision for the camp has spurred a lot of support in the community. Businesses and volunteers have helped make it a reality but there is still more work needed.
The camp is nestled in a heavily wooded area with a stream. Signs, fire pits, camp sites and rustic tables have been added.
This summer, a trail was created that starts at the clearing.
"If you follow that trail-head out, you embark on a one-mile journey going into the forest," McClain said.
He said a local Boy Scouts troop wants to put in a latrine or outhouse. A campaign on the GoFundMe site raised funds for the camp and additional fundraising continues.
"The more we show this to people, the more they want to help," Gray said. "People get excited. They get engaged."
Gray added: "We hope to get the funds to continue."
In a relatively short period of time, McClain and volunteers have turned the acreage into a rustic retreat. But, he has a bigger vision.
"My hope is, 20 years down the road, we have a lodge out here," he said.