Camp bridges gaps among kids of varied backgrounds

05/24/2014 4:33 PM

03/03/2015 12:28 PM

Paul Moore grew up on Charlotte’s westside, “from humble beginnings,” he said, in a neighborhood where kids didn’t hit golf balls, play tennis or venture off to summer sleep-away camp.

So when at age 8 he received a scholarship to attend YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s Camp Thunderbird on the shores of Lake Wylie, he found himself among kids with backgrounds far different from his.

But instead of shying away from new experiences, Paul became a sponge and used his natural athletic gifts to master new sports. His friendly personality helped him foster close friendships with kids and counselors he otherwise would never have met.

Camp Thunderbird, he said, is what put him on the journey to becoming the man he is today: an attorney, a college professor, and a devoted husband and father.

“I was just a little guy from Beatties Ford Road in west Charlotte. I was learning everything from the moment I stepped on campus,” Moore remembers of that very first summer at camp. “It was immediately a ‘home’ feeling for me.”

He returned to this second “home” summer after summer, becoming a counselor-in-training and later a counselor when he was too old to be a camper.

“I was always a scholarship kid, but my cabin mates never knew that. I treasured camp in a different way, because I knew I was there by blessings and by chance,” he said.

“I was just a good person to them, and they were to me. That’s something I appreciated more as I got older and realized that kids came from all different kinds of houses and had different backgrounds.”

Moore’s parents are both college graduates, but their jobs in teaching and real estate barely covered the bills at times, he recalls. “If I had to pay a dime for camp, I would not have gone.”

He only stopped going to camp when he realized as a college sophomore that he needed to start getting summer jobs and internships related to his majors.

Moore is 34 now and lives in the Miami suburb of Pembroke Pines with his wife, Maya, who is a Broward County trial attorney, and their sons, Liam, 6, and Aiden, 4. Both sons play violin, and Paul Moore now has money to donate to Camp Thunderbird’s scholarship programs from time to time.

Moore said his appreciation for people from varied backgrounds and his ability to relate to almost anyone grew from camp, and it has been the key to many of his successes.

“In almost every school I have attended, I was the president of my class,” he said. “That skill set of being able to comfortably relate to people who are very different – in business, it is just invaluable.

“People have relationships with who they’re comfortable with,” he said. “So I just cannot give enough credit to camp for learning how to work out problems with people who are different, and for exposure to music and the arts – so many things. Without camp, I would have grown up just with who was in my neighborhood, not knowing how much that would have prejudiced me later in life.”

Moore graduated from West Charlotte High School in 1998 and from UNC Chapel Hill in 2002 with degrees in political science and African-American studies. He graduated from Howard University law school in 2006, after which he and his wife moved to south Florida to be closer to her family.

He’s often reminded of the simpler ways camp has helped him, too.

“Even now, if business partners want to go hit some golf balls, I don’t embarrass myself,” he said, laughing. “I got that through camp.”

Kaye Carraway, resident camp director at Camp Thunderbird, has been with the camp for 38 years. She and Moore still keep in touch, and even though years have passed and thousands of other campers have walked through the doors, she still remembers young Paul.

“He had a genuine interest in getting to know other people and genuine concern for everyone, campers and staff,” Carraway said.

Every summer, Carraway said she witnesses the power of camp to bridge cultural, socioeconomic and racial gaps.

“For some kids, I think it helps to create in them an awareness and excitement of what might be,” she said. “The children that come to camp from families that are able to afford these things also experience that. I think it helps foster an appreciation for diversity across all socioeconomic levels and across all levels of professionalism and personal life.

“When children come to camp, they are children,” she said. “We take down all those walls that sometimes society puts up for us.”

Moore said when his boys are old enough, they’ll become campers at Camp Thunderbird, just like their dad. He’ll take them to see his name on the “Gold Bandana” board in the dining hall – signifying his high achievement in camp activities – and they’ll look to see whether “Paul Moore” is still scratched into the cabin walls where he slept as a camper.

“I can’t wait for them to get there,” he said. “Camp has given me a lot. I’ll always want to keep that connection close.”

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