Thanks to readers’ generosity, 146 children from the Charlotte region enjoyed a summer filled with nature hikes, swimming, rock sliding and s’mores. And many are dreaming of doing it again next summer.
They attended outdoor camps through The Summer Camp Fund.
The fund is an initiative by The Charlotte Observer and Partners in Out-of-School Time. The goal is to allow children from low-income families to spend time outdoors in a safe, structured environment.
Readers have contributed $57,312 so far. Donations are still needed to lay the groundwork for next year.
Read how these campers enjoyed the summer:
DaQuawn & DaQuaja Rinehardt
Sleeping outside for two days was one of DaQuawn Rinehardt’s favorite memories.
“We just got out of our tents. We were playing in the dark, tossing sticks and stuff.”
DaQuawn, 13, and his sister, DaQuaja, 11, were among several Catawba County campers who stayed at the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4H Educational Center in Reidsville, about 25 miles north of Greensboro.
DaQuaja wasn’t as enthusiastic about the outdoor sleeping: “It rained on us at 6 o’clock in the morning,” she explained. But the duo answered in unison when asked why they want to go back next year: “ ‘Cause it’s fun.”
Eleven-year-old Cristian Miranda of Charlotte returned from Camp Celo a few pounds lighter – and chock full of stories about his stay at the working farm in Burnsville, about 2 1/2 hours away.
“We have chores: cow chores, goat chores, chick chores, garden, snack, table trays and floor,” he said.
Cristian also hiked to a waterfall for a rock slide, ate meals made from products from the farm, enjoyed s’mores made at the campfire, made a miniature bamboo raft in the shop and slept in giant tents while everyone listened out for bugs.
“You’ll be outside all day and go on a lot of hikes. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I made lot of new friends.”
When nine-year-old Jack Tillery returned from Camp Royall, run by the Autism Society of North Carolina, his counselors included a report of everything he did.
That apparently included a lot of laughing, according to mom Tammy Tillery. After being harnessed up for a ride and bounce on the zip line, Jack “laughed so much after they bounced him, and he continued to laugh for a long time after we left,” according to the report.
Tammy Tillery says Jack’s good mood has continued after he returned home from the camp in Moncure, about 125 miles northeast of Charlotte. The theme of the outdoor camp is to provide children and adults who have autism with the same experiences they’d get at any other camp – from camp songs to nature hikes to canoeing.
“It seems like that was a good break for him,” Tillery said. “All of us need a little rest and relaxation…It really helped him to be a little more calm and even, just a better attitude.”
Six-year-old Raven Alston enjoyed one outdoor adventure after another on the grounds of The Schiele Museum in Gastonia, where she attended day camp for a week.
The museum’s science and environmental programs take place on 16 acres that include a nature trail, creek and outdoor classroom areas.
“We played and we went outside. And we had a field trip to go to the creek. We were making some clay. There was lots and lots of water...I got a worm. I put it back in the water.
“We saw dragonflies…That was my favorite part. And we ate watermelons and cheese sticks. It was a lot fun. We got to see a lot of pioneers and we became one.
“…I just couldn’t stop going there, because it was fun there.”
There’s always something fun at Camp Golden Valley, according to the Stokes sisters of Gastonia.
Victoria, 15, Alyssa, 13, and Samantha, 11, have attended the Rutherford County camp before, but still got into new adventures at the Girl Scout camp, about 60 miles west of Charlotte.
They did the “Rope Swingin’” session this time around, participating in high and low ropes courses. This included completing an obstacle course of sorts that ended with a zip line, Victoria said, and the “Tarzan swing,” according to Alyssa, where you swing from rope to rope to get from one side to another.
The beauty, peace and quiet of the 600-acre outdoor camp is why the girls love going back to camp every year.
“If you haven’t tried it,” Victoria says, “it’s worth trying.”