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The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund helps give kids a hefty dose of Vitamin N, as in Nature

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/16/35/1cesgk.Em.138.jpeg|316
    DIEDRA LAIRD - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
    Water activities are common element of summer camp fun. This year camps are offering a wide range of activities from swimming to sailing.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/16/35/nNQu5.Em.138.jpeg|316
    JEFF SINER - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Ciera Hopkins, 12, maintains the lead over her fellow campers while racing peddle cars at Camp Walter Johnson in Denton.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/15/44/VfO4l.Em.138.jpeg|208
    - CAMP CELO
    At Camp Celo in Burnsville – like all the camps working with The Summer Camp Fund – kids get plenty of outdoor time.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/16/35/RLSwL.Em.138.jpeg|231
    DIEDRA LAIRD - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
    Children enjoy group jump rope activities at one of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte. Some children from the clubs will attend Camp Walter Johnson this summer through a grant from The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/15/22/1tgIPB.Em.138.jpeg|495
    -

More Information

  • Summer Camp Fund donors

    The fund has raised $22,552.50 so far. Recent donors include:

    John and Lana Yopp $10

    Publix Super Market Charities Inc. $2,500

    Marcie Rollins $60

    Charlotte International Auto Show $5,000

    Jason Estep $50

    George W. & Ruth R. Baxter Foundation $10,000

    Observer Holiday Sale Distribution $1,308.50

    Anonymous $200

    Keith Weber $500

    Anonymous $500

    Carol R. Helms $50

    Brad Bostian $100

    In honor of our son, Michael A. $100

    Anonymous $150

    Anonymous $100

    Anonymous $30

    Marion Sousa $100

    In loving memory of Father “C” $100

    Roberta Wedding $100

    John W. McAlister $300

    Roger H. Cunningham $300

    CATS $140

    Socrates Academy, Inc. $299

    In honor of Ivon Rohrer Jr. $50

    Bowman Burton $200

    Douglas Ownby $25

    Vickie Dzubay $25

    Amy Wall $30

    Amy Elliott $25

    Edith T. Johnson $100

    In happy memory of camp days $100

    Total: $22,552.50


  • Help the Summer Camp Fund

    Donate online at www.charlotteobserver.com/summercampfund. Or send donations to The Summer Camp Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. Each Sunday during the drive, the Observer will list contributors in the Local section. If you wish to make an anonymous donation, indicate it on the “for” line of your check. If you donate via PayPal and wish to be anonymous, note your preference in the special instructions field. To donate in honor or in memory of someone, please also use the “for” line or special instructions field. Donations are tax deductible and are processed through Observer Charities, a 501(c)(3). If you have questions about your donation, call 704-358-5520.



Imagine a supplement that could make kids calmer and more able to learn; that would boost creativity and sink stress levels, combat attention-deficit disorder and help them feel more connected to each other.

Wouldn’t parents everywhere line up to get some for their kids – and themselves?

The prescription is free, and easy to access: Vitamin N, as in Nature, says Richard Louv, author of the 2005 blockbuster “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and 2011’s “The Nature Principle.”

The latest evidence, Louv says, is a study soon to be released by the University of Illinois, which tracked test results for children in more than 500 schools in the Chicago area. It found that the single greatest factor behind improved scores was the exposure of children to nature.

“This isn’t just about camp. This is about making kids happier and more creative throughout the year,” he said.

That’s the aim of The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund, which raises money for children from low-income families to attend summer camps. In its sixth year, the fund will send more than 266 Charlotte-area children to 14 different residential and day camps this summer.

For some of the campers, it will be their first taste of jumping into a lake, hiking up a mountain trail or climbing onto a horse.

Even if the camp lasts just a week, Louv says the impact can last a lifetime.

“They’re likely to come back calmer and more focused and more creative,” Louv says.

Louv started an international conversation about the relationship between children and nature with his first book, then founded the Children & Nature Network, which has spawned chapters across the globe. He fueled the creation of dozens of other organizations, such as the N.C. Children and Nature Coalition, volunteers from across the state who advocate for getting children connected with nature.

In the past decade, study after study has shown the undisputed benefits of time outdoors for kids.

University of Kansas researchers found that backpackers showed a 50 percent boost in creativity after just a few days in the woods, while a University of Illinois study recommended “green time” for kids with Attention Deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD.

Local camp leaders say they see firsthand how little some kids are exposed to the outdoors – and the great gift they reap when they’re turned loose in nature.

Natalie Childers, programs and camp director for the Carolina Raptor Center, which participates in the Observer’s Summer Camp Fund, says every summer she sees kids who are bewildered by nature when they first show up.

“For some of these kids, you have to talk about bug spray and sunscreen and not killing a bug. They see an earthworm or an inchworm, and it’s panic time,” Childers says. “A lot of these kids will scream and run away, and their instinct is to smash the bug. We have to talk about how everything has a place in this world.”

Some kids don’t want to canoe or kayak for fear of what is lurking in the lake. Others want to run inside at the first sign of rain.

But even just a week of turning over rocks, hiking through woods, meeting the center’s raptors and spending time on Mountain Island Lake can completely change a camper’s relationship with the great outdoors, Childers says.

“We encourage them to go home and teach their family what they’ve learned,” she says. “Parents come in and say, ‘My child will not let me squish bugs anymore.’ 

Sometimes, an appreciation for nature that germinates at camp can blossom after a child is home, Louv says.

“Some kids are in neighborhoods where they don’t perceive any nature around them. But often the densest inner city has nature, if you look for it,” Louv says. “It’s on a different scale. To be able to bring that idea of nature home with you, no matter what kind of neighborhood you live in, is very important.”

Kathy Bull, who leads the N.C. Children and Nature Coalition, says her heart breaks when she leads family outdoor programs and the kids and parents clearly don’t know how to explore in a grassy field, or are afraid to get their hands dirty in a muddy play area.

“The reason (children) are stressed out and the reason a lot of families aren’t connecting and creating memories is that they’re running around from activity to activity,” she says.

“The data indicates that children who have connections to nature and unstructured play outdoors do better in school, are healthier, more socially adept and they’re more successful when they enter the workforce,” Bull says.

Time spent at summer camp “has a tremendous impact,” Bull says.

And for kids growing up in poverty, time away from home and in nature could provide a new, fresh perspective.

“This is a group of kids that needs this. This is where they’ll find that nature is an equalizer. Everyone is the same in nature,” Bull says. “They get a sense of accomplishment, because they can accomplish things in nature.

“And most of all,” she says, “they can relax.”

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