Former Camper to Future Officer: How Echo Grove Camp Shapes Lives
For 100 years, thousands of families have enjoyed the fresh air, created new friendships, and learned the teachings of Jesus during the annual summer camp program at Echo Grove Camp and Retreat Center.
Marcarius Coakley first attended Echo Grove when he was about 5 years old. Growing up in the inner city of Detroit, he had never witnessed the type of beauty, love, and acceptance offered by Echo Grove, and the experience instantly changed his life.
“Coming from the inner city, I never saw it being different,” he explained. “I only saw what it was providing. The only thing I was used to before was gun violence, drugs, and living in a broken-down house with cockroaches. I grew up in Detroit where it wasn’t so safe, and camp made me feel safe. Everything out here amazes me. It’s where I found Christ. Every day you experience God’s beautiful creation of nature. It was a breath of fresh air; I didn’t have to worry about anything that was going on at home.”
The camping experience at Echo Grove is intended to do just that. Children participate in various activities that help nurture healthy living, enrich their lives, and improve their relationships. A trip to Echo Grove can mean a lifetime of impact for a child who needs encouragement, support, and the chance to just be a kid.
“This was my getaway,” said Marcarius. “Any chance I had to get out here, I was coming. I learned a lot of life skills at this camp--how to swim, build a fire--pretty much everything I know. I did all the things I wouldn’t be able to do in Detroit. I found that being out here was the place I needed to be, and I want other kids to experience that. I want this place to leave a mark on the kids the way it left a mark on me. Camp has a place for everybody; it’s a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Echo Grove Camp Director, Matthew Coakley, believes that several features set Echo Grove apart from other camps. From the large selection of indoor and outdoor activities to newly renovated facilities that feature air conditioning and Wi-Fi, the amenities and accommodations offered are impressive. However, it’s the passion of the staff and the heart of the camp that makes the biggest difference.
“Our staff has a different approach,” he expressed. “They encourage the campers, support them, have patience with them. It isn’t just a job. When you have a staff that enjoys what they do, it pays off. It makes a difference. You can share Christ through the way you work, living your faith through how you do your work, and hopefully the campers come back every year from doing so.”
Marcarius agrees, recalling one of his first memories at Echo Grove. “The staff really loves all of the children here,” he added. “The first thing I wanted to do when I got here was to learn how to swim. I remember my counselor that first year when I told him. He sat there at the edge of the pool all afternoon and taught me. I remember that to this day.”
Having dedicated counselors made a lasting impression on Marcarius, motivating him to return to Echo Grove as a camper until he was old enough to hold the position of project lead. Now at 28 years old, he has spent the past three years as a Ministry Coordinator at the The Salvation Army Plymouth Corps Community Center with plans of becoming an officer.
“Being out here and seeing how big of a role the counselors have really pushed me to want to work with kids,” he said. “This is where my heart has been, and everything has come full circle. I came out here as a camper, I met my family here, and now I come back here as an adult. I will always be welcome here; it’s home. It still gives me that same safe feeling as when I was a kid. I can’t tell my story without mentioning Echo Grove.”