North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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April 18, 2012

Wilderness camp ministers to troubled youth

Wilderness camp ministers to troubled youth

GARDENDALE — The idea of a religious camp for underprivileged children first came up several years ago with Jake Chemell, Rusty Rouse and brothers Jimmy and Josh Nation. Their idea eventually became what is known as Cornerstone Ranch.

The ranch is a Christian camp in which kids can enjoy outdoor activities found in most any secular summer camps, such as swimming, canoeing, fishing and archery. But there’s teaching from the Bible as well.

Camp sessions kick off every summer. Currently, kids can only stay for one night.

“We got to talking about wanting to affect the lives of kids,” said Jake Chemell, one of the four founders of Cornerstone, “And it grew into what you see now.”

The camp is made up of a wide expanse of forested land, including a lake that is used for fishing and boating. So far there is only one bunkhouse, with more to be built in the future as the founders expand on their vision.

“We’re a non-denominational organization,” said Rouse, one of the four founders and a special education coach at Gardendale High School. “We’re not one church. I’m not worried if they’re Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, whatever. We just want to share our love of Christ and teach these kids that there’s hope.”

Cornerstone Ranch specifically takes on boys, ages 12-18, that are considered underprivileged or those who have “economic, family, social or emotional difficulties.” The camp is free of charge to the boys.

“It’s hard to define what’s underprivileged,” said Mike Holmes, who is a chairman at Cornerstone. “A lot of times people are thinking it’s something like social status or family income, but here it’s not the case at all. A lot of kids that literally need the most come from a seemingly normal, financially stable home.”

Kids and teenagers who come to the camp are often from inner cities and have spent little or no time in the outdoors. For some, simple things such as roasting marshmallows over an open fire is a first for them.

“Things like that we started doing when we were just little,” said Stan Hogeland about a teenaged camper who had never roasted a marshmallow before. “He’s a teenager who had never done it. So many of them have never been exposed to the outdoors, especially if they’re inner city. They don’t know that nature’s out here like this.”

Cornerstone is financially supported by many local churches. Some of the funds from the upcoming Magnolia Festival in May will be going to the camp, according to festival coordinator Kathleen Phillips.

“To be honest, I hate to say a lot because we’ve had so many [supporters] that I don’t want to leave anybody out, but I think the city of Gardendale has really committed to our cause,” said Rouse. “They really see that there’s a need for it.”

Cornerstone’s executive committee members are chairman Jamin Grubbs; vice chairman Mike Holmes, executive director Rusty Rouse, plus founders Jake Chemell, Josh Nation; and Jimmy Nation. The board of directors includes Dr. Doug Alford, De Allen, Darrin Gilliam, Will Hard­man, Stan Hogeland, Dale Jones, Oscar Mann, Angie Pennington, Donna Powers, Draper Rogers and Chris Townes.

For more information about Cornerstone Ranch, call 674-4813 or visit

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