A lot of kids in Hall County have a reason to smile today, thanks in part to Gov. Nathan Deal.
Deal put his support behind the Chattahoochee Baptist Association and the First Baptist Church of Gainesville Anglers Sunday School group Thursday night to benefit Camp Hope, a Christian faith-based program for the area's underprivileged youth.
Camp Hope, held at the Georgia Baptist Assembly in Toccoa, provides a week of swimming, sports, learning and good old-fashioned fun to 50 boys and 50 girls from the Gainesville-Hall County area who have completed first through fifth grades.
With the help of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County and local schools, children who might not otherwise have the opportunity for such summer enrichment are selected to attend the camp for free.
In years past, the Anglers Sunday School group, led by president Jerry Kinsey, have held the annual benefit as a Sunday breakfast. Thursday evening's benefit was the first time in the group's 46-year sponsorship of the camp that the fundraiser was held as a dinner.
"A hundred years from now it won't matter what kind of car you drove or house you lived in, but what you've done in the life of a child," Kinsey said.
Several area businesses, as well as numerous individuals, volunteer their support and time for the camp each year.
Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said he cherishes the time he spends with kids at the camp each year.
"As a member of law enforcement, saving a life is temporary, but leading someone to Jesus accomplishes something. (Camp Hope) accomplishes something," Cronic said.
More than 250 people were in attendance at Thursday's dinner, nearly double last year's attendance, Kinsey said. That, Kinsey said, is in part because of Deal's appearance as keynote speaker.
Kinsey said the camp impacts so many children in the community and is vital to reaching kids who don't regularly attend church or have much guidance at home.
Mike Walston, church and community director of the Gainesville-based Chattahoochee Baptist Association said the camp provides three hot meals to children who aren't always getting good nutrition at home.
And Deal pointed out as he addressed attendees, a lot of the children who benefit from Camp Hope come from families that are torn by addiction. He encouraged everyone to not only support the camp's efforts, but to stop relying on government programs to take care of the needs of the community.
The governor said more efforts should be made by churches, civic organizations, families and individuals when it comes to charity.
"I think sometimes we allow charity to become the mandate of government. I don't think that is biblical in nature," Deal said.
"I know the liberal vs. conservative argument that we don't have any business doing for families, they ought to be willing to do it for themselves. I'm not sure that's Christian in its concept. I believe when there is a need, we ought to be called upon to do what we can to fill that need. And with these young people who go to Camp Hope, you are filling the need, and I thank you for that."
Deal spent the better part of Thursday touring storm-ravaged parts of the state and had to reschedule other engagements. He was able, however, to speak at the Camp Hope benefit on his way back to the Capitol.
"As I visited both Trenton and Ringgold, the information that was provided repeatedly said that the Baptist Association had come to the aid of those in need, and that the Baptist churches were providing shelter," Deal told the crowd.
Even during his meal, the governor was taking phone calls between bites. His efforts to keep the engagement despite Wednesday's tragic events were "greatly appreciated," Kinsey said.