Lieutenant Darby’s Journey Shaped by Love at Camp Paradise Valley

By: Judy Hamilton

In the summer of 2017, Lieutenant Dakarai Darby had a lot to celebrate: turning 33, his 10th wedding anniversary with his wife, Lieutenant Dominique Darby, and their third anniversary leading the Richmond, Kentucky, Corps – all important landmarks.

He also celebrated something else every day of the summer in his heart: Camp Paradise Valley. “I love telling my story, especially if it helps others.”

Dakarai grew up in difficult conditions at home. “My grandmother put me in camp when I was 6 in 1990 because it was something to do to get away from the environment I was in.”

Camp was a sanctuary for young Dakarai, “the complete opposite of where I lived in a housing project in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We grew up very, very poor. At camp, I was able to eat three meals a day, and I was able to go outside and play and run.”

His experience at camp also afforded him a new appreciation for nature’s wonders.

“I heard crickets and frogs for the first time there,” Lieutenant Dakarai said. “I had never heard those sounds before. At camp, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have to worry about sleeping under a window and bullets flying. I got to be at peace and be a kid.

“I was not a good kid at that age,” he said. “I had to be tough. Most of it was fabricated, but the only way I knew how to defend myself was with my hands. Four weeks in a row that first year of camp, I was sent home but allowed to come back. The people there didn’t give up on me when they had every right to.”

Unconditional love that he received gave him resiliency and confidence. “I didn’t know how to handle it at first,” he said. “It allowed me to be myself and to see the love of Christ shine.

“At 12 years old, I was saved at Camp Paradise Valley at a basketball court after a fight. The fight was at 10 p.m. It took me hours to calm down. The camp counselor at 1 a.m. showed me the way to salvation. I would not be the person I am without The Salvation Army and Camp Paradise Valley.”

Learning life skills to become a successful adult is another component of camp.

“I would never be an officer in The Salvation Army or have gone to college because I wouldn’t have been on this track,” Lieutenant Dakarai said. “‘Thank you’ is always on my mind. I wish the donors to The Salvation Army and the employees could hear ‘thank you’ a lot more. The only reason I have a relationship with Jesus Christ is because of The Salvation Army.”

Lieutenant Darby enjoys playing the guitar. During officer training in 2014, he won the Robert Taylor Memorial Guitar Award. He earned a  bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2007 and is now working on his MBA.

And there’s another thing about camp: “My wife is from Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She was 10 and I was 11 when we met at Camp Paradise Valley. We were on the same dance team.”

He and Lieutenant Dominique have come full circle – their children, Kadance and Jayden, are experiencing camp first-hand.

“Our daughter went to camp for the first time this summer, at Officers Family Camp,” Lieutenant Dakarai said. “She loved it, the singing and the praise and worship. The first time at night she was scared, but by Day 3 or 4, she was fine.”

This is his personal story, but it is also one he knows others share aspects of– that Camp Paradise Valley positively changed their lives. Not for a week or a month, but for a lifetime.