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Photo by Andy Sapp

Featured Article

BeiNg DiFferEnt. It's What Makes Us All the Same.

One camp, grown on Southern ground, is changing the lives of veterans and children all over the USA.

On just over 400 acres in Fayette County, GA, folks can be found providing support to a group of military veterans, on a high-ropes course with children who are differently-abled, or tending gardens of organically grown produce. A decade ago, Camp Southern Ground was a dream in the mind of global mega-star, Zac Brown. Today, it is a beautiful representation of Zac’s heart for the underserved and for those who have served. 

Being the youngest of 12 kids and step-kids in his family, Zac was sent to summer camp every chance his parents got. He started at camps in North Georgia at age 7 as a camper, then after college, worked as a staff member. Those camps were designed as inclusion camps; meaning the campers were both neurotypical and neurodiverse, or special needs. The impact that the special needs kids had on the typical kids was what Zac noticed the most. Zac learned the importance of an inclusive environment, and that is what inspired the vision of Camp Southern Ground. The desire to break down barriers and misconceptions about those who are differently abled has been the core of Zac’s mission. Camp Southern Ground is, distinctively, a 4-way inclusion camp. There are 4 intentionally selected "tribes" that come together during each week of summer camp; 1.) neurotypical kids  2.) special needs kids 3.) children of military families, and 4.) underserved youth. During every week of summer camp, each tribe of kids is camping, learning, and growing together.

“Since Zac Brown was already a national brand”, said Mike Dobbs, President, and CEO of Camp Southern Ground, “we spent our initial years building the operations with a national focus. That has allowed us to get the programs set up and rolled out. We are now better equipped to serve locally.” They have recently rolled out water safety training for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and are planning more community events for children and their families. They offer week-long camping experiences for both the I/DD population and typically developing kids, ages 7 to 17. Currently, any camper with I/DD will need to be able to communicate and handle their own self-care but there are future plans for providing respite care services for more involved levels of disability. “The greatest challenge for the inclusion camp model is to ensure every group is represented equally. Going back to Zac’s experience we want both typical and those with needs to have a great camp experience and learn the benefits of being together. Having kids with I/DD going to camp with neurotypical kids, that’s where the magic happens. The perspective you get with these kinds of kids is huge,” said Dobbs. The tuition for a week-long inclusion camping experience is just under $2,000, but most campers don’t pay that. There are discounts for early registration and sliding scales based on income.

Veterans and their families also hold a special place in Zac’s heart. Because Zac has been able to leverage partnerships with organizations like the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network and others, including Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank of Home Depot, veterans can come from all over the country at no cost to them. Camp Southern Ground is providing specific, topical support designed around veterans' needs. The Warrior Pathh Program is a full 7 days with an intense 90-day follow-up, and continued support if needed. The Warrior Week Program is a well-being model. “We help vets discover their personal mission and passion and what they’re naturally suited for. We built that one from scratch,” said Dobbs. “If people need services we don’t provide, we’ll put them in touch with the other organizations that can help.”

One of the slogans at Camp Southern Ground is #normalisoverrated and Zac Brown’s heart for veterans and those who are not considered “normal” is worn on his sleeve. In a recent interview, Zac said, “Ignorance is such a tragedy because some never get to be around other kinds of people. When you can immerse someone into all of that variety of culture and ethnicity and background, they come out not being afraid of [differences]. We can help change a child’s life in one week of camp. They never look at the world the same again.”

Zac Brown and Mike Dobbs make it clear that the intention of Camp Southern Ground is to build confidence, develop camaraderie, and foster companionship among those who are marginalized in society. They are building a place where being "different" is celebrated. If you would like to learn more about Camp Southern Ground and how to support the mission, visit or email

  • Photo by Danny Clinch
  • Photo by Danny Clinch
  • Photo by Andy Sapp
  • Photo by Andy Sapp
  • Playing UNO with campers
  • Zac greets campers in the Treehouse
  • Zac Brown and camp counselors on the activity center steps
  • Zac meets soldier at Camp Southern Ground
  • Mike Dobbs, CEO, and Zac Brown, founder of Camp Southern Ground