CAMP Rehoboth History
"It all started with a rainbow fence," says Murray Archibald.
The idea for CAMP Rehoboth took shape in 1991. More and more gays and lesbians were heading for Rehoboth on summer weekends, drawn by the beautiful resort and its burgeoning gay-friendly atmosphere.
While there were a growing number of places to dine and dance, with an increasing number of welcoming B&B’s, restaurants and shops, Murray Archibald and his partner Steve Elkins wished there could be a "focus—a place people could come for information about the community. They thought there should be a way of reaching out "for understanding and cooperation" between members of the gay and lesbian community and the local merchants, government, police and fire officials, year-round and summer residents and anyone else calling Rehoboth home.
"Our goal was to work with the entire community," says 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 means."
It started with the name. They combined the gay sensibility and its hallmark campiness with Rehoboth history—the city was founded as a Methodist campground retreat, with its name meaning "Room for All." The name CAMP Rehoboth was a natural.
CAMP Rehoboth -- a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation -- started with a fledgling four-page newsletter, a small Board of Directors and a tiny office space in the courtyard at 39 Baltimore Avenue. Up went Murray’s rainbow fence.
With lots of volunteers pitching in, CAMP started to make a name for itself by promoting, sponsoring, and participating in a variety of community events from World AIDS Day to Candidate forums to Community Unity Dinners and much more. Early on the organization enlisted the Lambda Rising bookstore as a courtyard anchor, greatly adding to the appeal of the space as a place for visitors and residents to gather and communicate.
As the organization grew, CAMP Rehoboth gave support to the development of other community groups like the Sussex County AIDS Council, the Metropolitan Community Church, participation with downtown revitalization and the Rehoboth Jazz Festival. From large dance parties to small workshops, CAMP took flight.
For its first two seasons, CAMP Rehoboth was managed by Executive Director Jim Bahr (pictured above with partner and Blue Moon founder Victor Pisapia). When he relocated, co-founder and Board member Steve Elkins took over as Executive Director, a position he still holds today.
As the organization grew, it continued to live up to its mission by supporting the arts, developing health programs, fighting discrimination, promoting political awareness, hosting sensitivity training, and developing good relationships with the local media, police, government and community.
CAMP Rehoboth has seen incredible growth. That four-page newsletter has been known to go over 120 pages now, and instead of being available at a handful of sites, it’s delivered to Rehoboth area businesses, and shipped to many more in D.C., NYC, Philly and Baltimore.
While Letters from CAMP Rehoboth is perhaps the most visible part of the CAMP Rehoboth operation, its programs are varied, the office is open seven days a week during the busy summer season and has become an unofficial chamber of commerce and resource center for Rehoboth’s gay and lesbian visitors.
CAMP Rehoboth has a great many volunteers, raises lots of money for its own operation and other non-profits, lobbies for LGBT equality, is often called the heart of the community. With the purchase of 39 Baltimore Avenue—which housed the original CAMP Rehoboth—and the acquisition of 37 Baltimore Avenue, the dream of expanding CAMP Rehoboth into a full service community center became a reality. A successful capital campaign plus the construction of Phase II which included a new wing and courtyard renovation completed the project in the spring of 2009.The rainbow fence had to come down to make way for the new Community Center room, but has been replaced by a spectacular, AIA award-winning rainbow wall etched with the names of all the Founders' Circle members who donated to make new building possible.
CAMP Rehoboth’s logo is a house with a heart inside—and its vision “to be the heart of the community.” In 2015 CAMP Rehoboth will celebrate 25 years of “Creating A More Positive” world with “room for all.”