January 2009 - Camp E-Ma-E-Tu
When you arrive at MerleFest early in the morning, have you ever noticed how neat the rows of green reserved seating chairs are? How all the garbage from the previous day's concerts seems to have magically disappeared? How garbage bags on the chairs have been replaced? It hasn't happened by magic. The staff and campers at Camp E-Ma-E-Tu start early every morning of the festival to make sure things are neat and tidy when the first festival-goers arrive. They also clean and organize the Creekside campsite before the festival begins.
Camp E-Ma-E-Tu was established in Wilkes County in May 2000 and began their work at MerleFest in 2001. As a year-round Eckerd Youth Alternatives program for young people, the camp uses the money made from their work at the festival for the benefit of the children they serve. They use it for activities such as field trips and extended wilderness trips along with special party days and client recognition.
Matt Todd, Program Director, said of the experience the campers have at MerleFest, "They get to see the bigger picture of how one small group can help so many have positive experiences. They also get to complete something they felt they could not. The group looks at the sea of green chairs every morning and says there is no way we will get that done, and every day, every year, every group finishes cleaning and straightening the hundreds of green chairs." Another benefit Matt recognizes is that the campers learn some of the history and culture of this part of North Carolina through hearing music of performers like Doc Watson. He sees their MerleFest experience as a preview of a positive activity they can look forward to attending when they graduate from the Camp E-Ma-E-Tu program.
Matt Todd and the staff of Camp E-Ma-E-Tu believe that the entire community benefits from the experience volunteers take away from the festival. "MerleFest is a benefit to our area economically, which will be very important this year. The community also benefits from all the volunteers that participate because they are invested, and they all own one little portion of one great annual event."
The camp staff appreciates the exposure to and education about the program, the clients, and the goals of Eckerd Youth Alternatives that their volunteer experience at MerleFest provides to the community. The entire MerleFest family appreciates the great work done by the staff and clients of Camp E-Ma-E-Tu. Thank you for making the festival site comfortable, clean, and inviting!