Salvation Army Major Larry Broome has been affiliated with Salvation Army camps most of his life.
He attended one at Kings Mountain State Park beginning in about 1963 and became the first water safety instructor at Camp Walter Johnson when it opened in Denton, N.C. in 1974.
Now, as co-commander of Charlotte’s Salvation Army, he oversees the Boys & Girls Clubs that send scores of kids to Camp Walter Johnson, a faith-based overnight camp on High Rock Lake.
Thanks to the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund 87 children will head to Camp Walter Johnson this summer. They are among more than 500 kids heading to 33 camps this summer because Observer readers and others donated 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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Each summer kids ages 6 to 17 come to Camp Walter Johnson. For many it’s their first-ever trip away from home.
Campers are primarily from low-income families, just as Broome was as a boy. Every camper attends on full or partial scholarship, but it’s not entirely free.
“We ask that parents pay $5 to register,” Broome said. “We like for them to do something to feel committed. But the kids get the $5 back on the bus on the way to camp. They can use it for lunch money.”
A week at Camp Walter Johnson is filled with adventure, art, music, skits, swim lessons, making friends, and exploring faith.
Shaletha Hall has sent son, Xavier, 12, to Walter Johnson for the past three years. Xavier is a member of the Belmont Avenue Boys & Girls Club and wants to be a “pastor, lawyer or a judge” when he’s older, his mom said.
“He’s a spiritual child,” Hall said. Still, Xavier was “a little scared of the ‘Jesus walk’ his first year – in which the kids learn about Jesus’ crucifixion – but “he said he later saw the impact.” He also likes having fun and freedom for a week.
Worship is integral to camp. Bible study is part of the experience, and values – “of honesty and loving your neighbor and God” – are instilled, Broome said. While it’s a Christian camp, children from all faith backgrounds are welcome.
Camp is where Broome first “discovered his purpose and made a commitment to a spiritual life.” He has had many campers tell him over the years that this camp is where they first “came to know the Lord,” he said.
There are other lessons besides those from the Bible. Some older teens can attend a leadership camp where they learn to pitch a tent, build a fire and cook dinner over it, and respect and protect the environment.
For the first time this year, reading hour is part of every camper’s day. Campers can choose books from the camp’s lending library to read during the week. It may be summer break, but Broome said he and his staff are trying to address success in school and prevent summertime brain drain.
The camp offers every luxury a kid could want, and all of it – including the Olympic-size swimming pool, the high-ropes course, the new-this-summer indoor gym, and the air-conditioned cabins – is there because of donations.
Kids may be impressed with the facilities, but there’s something else that impresses parents. “At the end of a week kids are more confident, they can shake your hand and make eye contact,” Broome said. “They’ve practiced courtesy and cooperation.”
Those lessons, like the memories made at Camp Walter Johnson, can last a lifetime.
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.