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Duke students find the fun as volunteers

By Melinda Johnston
Special Correspondent

Two Duke University students have had a chance to see the value of summer camp scholarships this summer.

No, they weren't recipients. Allie Yee and Hilary Landa volunteered at the camps.

They were part of Duke Engage, a program that gives students an opportunity to participate in service projects during summer break.

Rising senior Yee, 21, and rising junior Landa, 20, chose Charlotte for their eight weeks of service and were placed at Partners in Out-of-School-Time, or POST.

The nonprofit POST and the Charlotte Observer work together to raise money for the Summer Camp Fund, which is used to send low-income and at-risk kids to camp.

Readers are asked to donate money for scholarships.

"I've worked hands-on with kids throughout my life but wanted to work behind-the-scenes at a nonprofit, particularly one that provided opportunities for low-income and at-risk youth," Landa said.

Landa said she experienced firsthand the importance of such organizations as she attended a Boys & Girls Club while growing up in Camarillo, Calif., from age 6 to 13. When she was in high school, she became a counselor for the club.

"I've learned the importance of intermediary nonprofits. While they don't run any programs directly, they provide support, financing and training so that many other programs can run," Landa said. "I also learned about all the behind-the-scenes work it takes for these camps to run smoothly and for the kids to have a good time."

For the past few weeks, Landa and Yee have traveled to several of the 13 camps that receive scholarships from the Summer Camp Fund and talked to some of the campers. They created a blog about their visits to various camps and are working on a video as well. Visit www.postcarolinas.org and click on Blog under Latest News to read more about their adventures.

"At Camp Thunderbird we saw them participating in lake activities that looked so cool. At Camp Grier they were hiking and enjoying the outdoors," Yee said. "It was very peaceful and so nice to be out of the city and surrounded by nature.

"The sense I got was that this was an exciting new thing for most of them. Every day they were trying new things and doing things they wouldn't ordinarily get to do in school or in the city. Having those experiences over the summer can give you good memories that can motivate you for the rest of your life."

Landa made a young friend when she visited the Stanly County YMCA camp, which brought back memories of her own childhood.

"I got to meet a Summer Camp Fund recipient, and we hit it off right from the start. She was so cute and feisty and so excited to be there. She had a really spunky, confident attitude and blue eyes and blonde hair that reminded me of myself. She seemed strong for such a little girl," Landa said.

"At Camp Grier there was a ropes course, and the counselor spoke of kids who were scared to try it at first but by the end of the week were pros. It was important to allow for that growing experience and for that sense of accomplishment. I'm impressed with these kids that go out there and face nature and have a good time doing it."

Though Landa and Yee are both nearing the end of college, they say summer camp still looks appealing.

"Everything just looks like so much fun. I'd still like to go to one of those camps for a week," Landa said.

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