Girl Scout Troop Leader Joanne Shea couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Summer camp had transformed one of her scouts, one who previously had little interest in the other girls or adult leaders.
“Brandy had been in my troop for a year and had not wanted to engage with anyone,” Shea said. But when she returned after summer break, she was happy, enthusiastic, and ready to do more than participate. She was suddenly a leader.
Brandy Magali-Palacios, 11, who is being raised by a single dad who works three jobs, had been changed by something as simple – and magical – as summer camp.
This year, donations from the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund are sending 25 girls to the Dale Earnhardt Environmental Leadership Campus at Oak Springs, a camp run by the Hornets’ Nest Girl Scout Council. They are among more than 500 children heading to 33 camps thanks to donations to the Summer Camp Fund. This year’s goal is to raise $215,000 to send hundreds more to camp next summer.
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Brandy’s dad, Pedro, who doesn’t speak fluent English, said via a translator: “Brandy liked everything (about camp) – the boating, the cabins, and most of all being out of the home, because I am the only person in the home and we don’t get to go many places.”
Brandy’s evolution started with Julie Stedman, who began an outreach program at Rama Road Elementary School to register girls who wouldn’t typically be involved in Scouts. Many of them are from single-parent homes where parents often works more than one job.
Stedman helped the girls find scholarships to the Oak Springs Girl Scout camp north of Statesville, which serves scouts ages 6 to 17. All the Rama Road scouts attend on scholarships, like the one provided by the Observer’s Summer Camp Fund.
After camp, Brandy’s dad noticed the difference in her.
“She was happier; she wanted to participate more,” he said. Before camp, “she didn’t even want to go out to play.”
Now, she’s “more outgoing, not as shy...and she learned to express herself through drawing,” he said.
The 600-acre camp includes a lake where campers swim, canoe, kayak and paddleboard. It also has a climbing tower, low-ropes challenge course, archery range, hiking trails, and more.
Stephanie Anderson, outdoor program and property manager for the Hornets’ Nest Girl Scout Council, said scout camp “builds courage, confidence and character.”
“We think it’s important that all girls, no matter their financial status, be able to experience all that Girl Scouting offers, and a week at camp can be life-changing for some,” Anderson said. “They will make lasting friendships...and (learn) leadership skills to take home to better themselves and the world around them.”
“Brandy talked about camp like it was utopia,” troop leader Shea said. “And, it’s not the Ritz Carlton; it’s rustic and hot. But when she returned from camp, it was as a model Girl Scout. Brandy is a future leader.”
Shea will lead Brandy’s troop again this fall. And she, Stedman and other volunteers will be advocating for Brandy to return to camp next summer.
“I want to continue seeing her engaged.” Shea said. “I foresee her being a CIT (Counselor in Training) and eventually a counselor. I would do anything for that child. She has such potential.”
Even Brandy didn’t seem to realize that – until she went to camp.
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.
Each Sunday during the drive, the Observer will list contributors to the fund. If you wish to make an anonymous donation, indicate it on the “for” line of your check or on PayPal, note your preference in the special instructions field. To donate in honor or in memory of someone, 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: 704-358-5520.