This is an article that was in the Carroll County Times Advocate on 6/22/2011.

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The first of the Summer Saturdays at River Valley Ranch June 25 will not only celebrate U.S. independence with fireworks, but it will also serve as an opportunity for the camp to recognize Staff Sgt. Chris Swanson, a former camper who was killed in Iraq in 2006, and give back to servicemen and women, said LaDessa Aument, special events coordinator at RVR.

Aument said RVR, a Christian camp located outside of Manchester, hopes to raise $10,000 by the end of the day June 25 for the SSG Chris Swanson Military Camper Fund, which will provide scholarships to campers who are the children of either fallen soldiers, members of the military who have been wounded in battle or members of the military who are currently active.

She said attendees will be encouraged to text message donations and there is also an opportunity to donate online.

RVR Executive Director Jon Bisset said a seed gift from SSG Christopher W. Swanson Support Charity for Veterans and their Families, Inc., along with some other donations bring the total to close to $4,000 so far.

Gary Swanson, Chris’ father and president of SSG Christopher W. Swanson Support Charity for Veterans and Their Families, Inc., said his family has sponsored campers in the past but the donation is coming from the foundation this year. The nonprofit is committed to using a portion of its donations and soliciting funding and sponsors to continue the camp scholarship program in the future, he wrote in an email.

Gary said according to Chris’ personal website, the men Chris served with in the Army were his life at that time and he would give his life for them. Chris was killed during his third tour in Iraq, at the age of 25.

“We picked up in his spirit to continue on with these outreach programs that we do for military personnel and their families,” Gary said.

Bisset said several families have already applied for the scholarship.

He said he asks families receiving the scholarships to contribute $200, or what they can give, for the classic camp, which costs a little over $500, he said. This allows the scholarships to assist more families, he said.

“The real goal of this is trying to give as many [military] children the opportunity to come to camp as possible,” Bisset said.

Gary said at the event, he will speak about the scholarship fund, young people in general, and about Chris and how the family is dealing with its loss. Aument said he will speak in the rodeo arena after the rodeo’s last event. The rodeo begins at 4 p.m. In an email, Chris’ younger brother Kenny Swanson, who is now 26, recalled memories of a weekend the two spent at RVR together in the winter.

“Besides all the practical jokes, snowy football games and overall fun time we shared, I specifically remember the times we just sat and talked at the Ranch that weekend,” he wrote.

Kenny said his brother, who was three years older than him, talked to him about the importance of living out his faith in Jesus Christ and how it related to entering high school.

“More important than my brother being a hero and paying the ultimate sacrifice, this fund will help his true mission in life continue,” Kenny wrote. “This fund will ensure that kids hear the good news of The Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Other Summer Saturdays at River Valley Ranch will be July 9, July 23 and Aug. 6, and they are the only times RVR is open to the public because of camp during the week, Aument said. On June 25, admission of $5 per person, but no more than $20 per car, will be charged at the time of parking because of the fireworks; the other dates do not have an admission charge.

Activities like swimming in the pool, taking a hayride or riding horses each have a fee, and there will be food and other items for sale. Aument said depending on the weather, RVR is expecting 4,000 to 5,000 attendees for the kick-off event and estimated 1,000 to 1,500 for the other Saturdays. She said the staff and volunteers are able to share Christ’s love through their actions.

“We just want to provide a wholesome, fun experience for families or individuals just to come out and be able to experience the country in a loving, friendly atmosphere,” Aument said.

Reach correspondent Vanessa Junkin at 410-857-7898 orĀ vanessa.junkin@carrollcountytimes.com.