When Terrance Oxner, 11, returned from a week at Camp Walter Johnson in Denton last summer, he told his mom he had done “everything.”
“He had a ball; he was so excited,” said his mom, Vanessa Hines.
The way she tells it, Terrance – who will return to camp again this summer thanks to a Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund scholarship – was practically breathless as he recounted swimming, hiking and the all-encompassing “everything.” (That includes a rock wall, ropes course, nature hikes and a putt-putt course.)
He’d never been hiking and discovered he loved it. In fact, he had never spent the night away from home until last summer.
“He’s mostly outgoing but can sometimes be bashful,” she said. “But he loved meeting new people. And people love Terrance."
Since 2009, the Observer Summer Camp Fund has raised over $1.5 million and sent more than 3,000 children from the area to day and sleepaway camps.
This summer, more than 500 kids will attend 33 camps. And 81 are headed to Walter Johnson, which is run by the Salvation Army of North and South Carolina. And they will return home with stories of accomplishment.
“Kids get to swim twice a day. That’s usually what they talk about when they return home,” said Marty Clary, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte. That Boys & Girls Club is a program of the local Salvation Army.
Terrance attends one of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte and is one of scores of kids from there who get to attend Camp Walter Johnson. Each summer, kids age 7 and up come to camp on High Rock Lake for what’s often their first trip away from home.
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As a faith-based camp, Walter Johnson makes Christian teachings part of each day.
There are morning devotions, vespers in the evening and a Bible class for each cabin that goes “in-depth into issues these kids face,” Clary said.
Boys & Girls Clubs are also rooted in Christianity. If a camper is interested in finding a church home, camp counselors and Boys & Girls Clubs staffers are adept at working with their parents to ensure kids have a way to make church part of their lives.
Besides a new (or renewed) faith – and a sense of accomplishment – campers get to take home with them at least one book.
Reading hour is part of every camper’s day. Campers choose books from the camp’s lending library. When they finish one, they are required to write a short report on it. And then they can choose another.
The most voracious readers may go home with four books, Clary said.
Every camper is here on a full or partial scholarship; most are from low-income families.
Counselors, mostly college students who go through a one-week training before campers arrive, serve as “role models, mentors and shepherds,” according to Clary.
“This is a special place,” Clary said. “Kids get out of their proverbial comfort zone, away from technology and out in nature to enjoy God’s handiwork.”