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SEND A KID TO CAMP | AN OCCASIONAL SERIES

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Just like any other camp

Fund will provide a child with a chance to attend a unique camp for people with autism.

By Celeste Smith
cesmith@charlotteobserver.com

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Carrie Nichols says the excitement starts around the time her 15-year-old son, Bucky, sees the Camp Royall sign, about a mile outside the residential camp.

"He starts jumping up and down in his seat," Nichols says. "By the time you get up to where you park, the car is rocking back and forth, he's so excited. He knows where he is."

The camp is unique because it's tailored exclusively to people with autism.

Now, one student from the Charlotte region will have the chance to attend the five-day overnight camp through The Summer Camp Fund. An initiative by The Charlotte Observer and Partners in Out-of-School Time, the fund provides scholarships for children from low-income families to attend outdoor camps. Readers are asked to contribute to the fund.

While Nichols' son isn't a scholarship recipient, she can speak to how much an entire family will benefit from The Summer Camp Fund scholarship to Camp Royall. Bucky has gone for seven seasons.

The $1,600 cost is out of reach for many families who must devote a lot of time and resources to their family member with autism. The week is a good experience for the camper, and for the camper's family, Nichols says.

"It provides respite for the family," Nichols said. "It's not only good for him, but it's good for us, and it's good for his twin brother. We get to spend those five days focusing on his twin brother."

The 133-acre camp, 125 miles northeast of Charlotte near Pittsboro, is run by the Autism Society of North Carolina. It's a lot like traditional camps, Nichols says, from the orange life jackets lined up by the rowboats to the pond with white ducks to the end-of-camp talent show.

Nichols says there's a safe and welcoming atmosphere. Trained counselors are assigned to only one or two children, so campers get lots of attention.

Staff is knowledgeable about each child's background. "Every night, your counselor calls and tells you about their day," she said, from when Bucky got up to what he ate for breakfast, to whether he took to a particular task in arts and crafts.

Plus, Nichols says, staffers are as excited to see Bucky as he is to see them.

"Last year, he ran, and I mean ran, into the gym where you go to register," said Nichols - where he received a loud "Bucky's here!" welcome.

"The people there get him," says Nichols. "It's just a really neat opportunity."

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