Top-ranked Camp Creekside, at Lincolnton YMCA, celebrates expansion, seeks aid

05/26/2012 11:00 PM

05/29/2012 5:30 PM

It’s not big. It’s not on a lake. It doesn’t offer towering ziplines or kayaking.

But at Camp Creekside, a day camp run by the Lincoln County Family YMCA, the amenities are secondary to the kinship.

On that strip of land hugging a small creek, campers become like family.

The hundreds of campers each summer range in age from kindergarten to high school and most come from low-income families. Campers can stay from one to 11 weeks.

About 85 percent of the campers are there on scholarship, said Julie Foreman, senior family services director for the Lincoln County Family YMCA and the Sally’s YMCA. So this year, Camp Creekside applied to The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund, which will pay for 16 scholarships for one week of camp.

Every day starts at an assembly with a devotion and prayer. Then the campers break into groups. They swim, play games, do scavenger hunts and crafts.

Because a majority of campers are in the free-and-reduced lunch program at school, Lincoln County Schools provides a daily breakfast and lunch.

Camp Creekside also offers speciality camps for basketball, flag football, dance and cheer, and nature exploration, among other activities.

To measure effectiveness, the YMCA tried to gauge camp loyalty, said Andy Calhoun, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte.

Camp families were asked to measure on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they were to recommend the camp. Of the 300 YMCA summer camps in the greater Charlotte area, Camp Creekside’s scored the highest.

“People just really love this camp,” Calhoun said. “It’s just a positive, encouraging environment, which some of these kids just really need.”

Seven years ago, Lincolnton High senior Lance Friday walked into the Lincoln County YMCA to inquire about counselor openings.

Watching the video about Camp Creekside, “my face broke into a big smile,” Friday said. “It sounded like something I could do.”

Friday, now 24 and a senior at Appalachian State University, is a counselor and the site manager of Camp Creekside. He changed his major from accounting to recreation management and wants a career at the YMCA.

“I think that’s where God wants me to be,” Friday said.

One of Friday’s favorite campers was a boy named Adrian, who asked that counselors call him “Ravioli.”

Ravioli was always picking on counselors or joking around.

“But if you really just sit down and get to know him … he doesn’t have a father figure in his life,” Friday said. “You have to show them ... attention.”

The high school campers are in a “Leaders in Training” group to learn to become counselors. But for the aspiring campers who are too young for the program, Friday makes them “little helpers.” They’ll lead lines to the bathroom or do headcounts.

The hardest part of the summer is saying goodbye, especially for the campers who stay the entire 11 weeks.

“It’s horrible,” Friday said. “Last year was the hardest on me. I walked a little girl out to her car, and she just started pouring out crying … then I started crying.”

This summer, Camp Creekside is celebrating an expansion.

Lincoln County donated 5.5 acres valued at $175,000 on the opposite side of the creek, and YMCA donors gave more than $800,000 to develop the land.

The expansion will include more open space, sports fields, hiking trails, a sand volleyball court, a ropes course and an outdoor chapel.

“The camp is like a big family,” said Friday. “We grow so close to the kids, it seems like they’re our little brothers and sisters at times. And that’s something that ... keeps me wanting to come back year after year.”

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