Parents who struggle to coax kids to do chores may be intrigued by Camp Celo in Burnsville, N.C.
At this overnight camp, which is part of a third-generation working family farm, campers choose a chore shortly after they arrive. And these chores aren’t exactly light work. Someone has to milk the goats and cows, check the oil in the camp vans, and harvest vegetables.
Counselors make a big fuss over latrine duty, said camp director Drew Perrin. They make toilet cleaning so fun that most kids want bathroom duty again. Plus, any camper who does it for a few days is guaranteed his first-choice chore when they rotate.
Wait a sec. Kids want to clean toilets? Is Camp Celo in “The Twilight Zone”?
It could be: It’s not unusual for Celo campers to discover a love for beets. Food tastes better when you’ve harvested it yourself. Counselors make that fun, too.
Jada Boyd, now 13, thought she hated beets until she pulled them out of the ground herself. “She loved harvesting her own food,” said her mom, Nicole Hall of Charlotte.
Jada went to Camp Celo from 2014 to 2016 on an Observer Summer Camp Fund scholarship.
This year the Observer grant is sending eight children to Camp Celo. They’re among more than 500 children heading to 33 camps because readers donated to the Summer Camp Fund. This year’s goal is to raise $215,000 to send hundreds more to camp next summer.
There was a lot Jada didn’t think she’d like about camp, her mom said – until she tried it.
Jada had never hiked. Yet, each year she returned hiking was what she looked forward to most. Last summer, she was the hike leader and hiked farther than she ever had.
“Her confidence was already pretty high,” Hall said. “When she came back from camp it was through the roof!”
Most Celo campers have never milked a cow. But it teaches them responsibility and how to be a member of a team.
“I had to milk the cows so we could all have milk,” one boy wrote in his camp assessment.
When beets are served at dinner, counselors say: “If you picked beets today, stand up.” Everyone applauds the mini-farmers and a sense of self-worth takes root.
“We grow half of what we eat,” said Perrin. “And what we buy is mostly organic or local. There’s no access to ‘treats’ like potato chips.”
Summer camp isn’t known for luxuries and Celo is particularly rustic. Cabins are wooden platforms covered with large canvas tents. There is no electricity in tents, but each is equipped with a battery-powered lantern.
Since it’s lantern-light-only after dark, campers tuck in early. Counselors read a bedtime story then all the counselors gather outside the tents to sing their young charges to sleep. Bedtime favorites include James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and old spirituals like “I’ll Fly Away.”
There is no “Reveille” blasting kids awake at sunrise. Counselors perform a morning serenade at 7:30 a.m.
“It’s pretty idyllic,” he said. He’s referring not just to the setting and the singing, but the vibe.
“Our camp has always sought a racially and economically diverse group of kids,” Perrin said. “Even in the 1950s – when that was a very progressive idea – that’s how my grandfather wanted it. He wanted campers to see that we all thrive together. We’re all part of the same world.”
To give to the Summer Camp Fund
Donate at charlotteobserver.com/summercampfund. Or send donations to The Summer Camp Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269.
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