For one weekend each August, REALTOR® Steven Sharpe and his wife, Lindsey, run Camp Horizon, a special kind of summer camp for children from the Chattanooga, Tenn., region.
Around 35 to 40 kids, with physical disabilities ranging from slight paralysis to cerebral palsy or spinal bifida, attend the camp. Swimming, canoeing, campfires, crafts, scavenger hunts, archery—pretty much any summer camp activity one can think of—are available to experience at Camp Horizon. “Even though we have a wide variety of campers with various disabilities, every child is going to be able to do every single activity we have planned,” explains Steven. “We don’t want to cut anybody out at all.” Since 2005, the camp has provided 540 children with the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors.
“For my daughter to be able to go somewhere that is built for her and made to encourage her and other children like her is just invaluable,” says Kristina Manley, whose daughter, Meghan, now 13, has attended Camp Horizon almost every year since kindergarten. “Meghan will literally tell you that it is her favorite part of the whole year. She absolutely loves it.”
To support the campers’ special needs, about 50 volunteers, mostly physical therapy and occupational therapy students from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, along with nurse practitioners and physicians, are on hand, enabling Camp Horizon to match each camper with at least one adult who has medical training.
Lessons for a Lifetime
Camp Horizon is hosted by Camp Lookout, a Methodist summer camp where Lindsey and Steven Sharpe met as camp counselors. Lindsay was studying to earn her physical therapy degree at the time.
“What Lindsey realized pretty quickly is that a majority of her patients would never have an opportunity to enjoy a summer camp program, because of mobility limitations and other medical issues,” explains Sharpe.
“The opportunity we have to create an environment where these kids are loved and accepted and challenged to be better than they thought they could be—that’s an incredibly encouraging, incredibly cool thing to watch unfold each year.” – Steven Sharpe
“I knew how much I enjoyed camping and how much it influenced my life,” Lindsey Sharpe says. “Camping helps kids build independence, resiliency, confidence and coping mechanisms. With our backgrounds in summer camp, physical therapy and business, I figured that my husband and I could run a camp for these kids. And so I looked at Steven one day and said, you know, we should try to do a camp. He tends to support my crazy ideas.”
Just six months later, in August 2005, the Sharpes hosted their first camp. “When he saw how much of an impact it had on these kids’ lives, he was hooked,” she says. “He’s been all in ever since.”
Camp Horizon gives the children who attend a whole new perspective. “Most of them are the only child with a disability that they’re aware of in their school, their environment, their world,” Sharpe continues. “Some have never even been able to spend a night with their grandparents. Part of the reason we called it Camp Horizon is because they have an opportunity to challenge their horizons and see that there’s something better out there for them—and that they can grow beyond their disabilities.”
Other than support groups, often arranged through doctors, Camp Horizon is one of the only opportunities the kids have to engage in these types of outdoor activities with other kids who have disabilities. “The most important part is that the kids just be together,” Sharpe says, “supporting each other and encouraging each other to experience things they maybe never imagined they’d be able to do.”
“That’s really the best part about Camp Horizon,” says Manley. “Meghan gets to be in a community of other disabled children where she feels celebrated and accepted.”
Ensuring the Camp’s Success
Although the camp lasts only one weekend, preparation begins months in advance. The cost of running Camp Horizon is paid entirely from donations and grants; none of the participants’ families pay to attend. “We spend a good portion of the year talking to various civic groups and businesses to get support for the camp,” says Sharpe, who has raised more than $350,000 in donations since 2005.
“I think that any time you have the opportunity to volunteer or do something community-based, or another thing that you’re truly passionate about, you’re going to find the time you need to accomplish it.” – Steven Sharpe
In addition to soliciting funds, Sharpe does everything from organizing the volunteers and ordering supplies to writing brochures and sponsor letters and making sure required documents and paperwork are completed. Throughout the year, he and Lindsey conduct information sessions, both with parents of potential campers and with student volunteers.
During camp, Sharpe does the setup work, runs the sound equipment and takes hundreds of photos for an end-of-camp slideshow. He’s also responsible for the zipline, one of the only handicap-accessible ziplines in the Southeast.
Volunteering: Part of a Balanced Life
Until recently, Sharpe tended to keep Camp Horizon separate from his responsibilities as a managing broker at Keller Williams Realty in Chattanooga, where he works with 360 agents. “A lot of people here had no idea my wife and I did anything like this,” he says. “[I treated it as] a separate part of my life. It didn’t necessarily fit into the business environment.”
His opinion changed as he became more involved in his local REALTOR® association. Serving as the 2023 president of Greater Chattanooga REALTORS®, he had opportunities to share the story of Camp Horizon. “It leads to different conversations about volunteering and why we do it, and it gives people a different perspective of who I am as a person,” he says. “You need to be a well-balanced individual and embrace the opportunity to work hard, play hard, and also volunteer to help your community be better every single day.”
Steven Sharpe, ABR, AHWD, C2EX, EPRO, GRI, of Chattanooga, Tenn., is managing broker at Keller Williams Realty and founder of Camp Horizon.