Summer Camp Fund

Life on the farm: Camp celebrates simplicity, diversity

Randolph Middle School sixth-grader Jackson Elliott, 12, will be heading to summer camp at Camp Celo this summer thanks to a scholarship from the Charlotte Observer's Summer Camp Fund.
Randolph Middle School sixth-grader Jackson Elliott, 12, will be heading to summer camp at Camp Celo this summer thanks to a scholarship from the Charlotte Observer's Summer Camp Fund.

Jackson Elliott hopes his parents understand that when he comes home from camp, he’ll have just enough energy to give them a hug before he flops down for a nap.

Farming is hard work and Jackson embraces his chores enthusiastically at Camp Celo, a farm in western North Carolina.

While friends back home watch TV and play video games, Jackson will milk cows, feed chickens and pick vegetables. He’ll bottle feed baby goats, harvest wheat and hike through the mountain trails.

He spent part of his past two summers there and can’t wait to go back in July.

“At Camp Celo they get you to bond with nature, and I know that I respect nature a lot more because of that,” says Jackson, who is 12 and a sixth grader at Randolph IB Middle School. “It gets kids away from electronics and that stuff — I almost forget about them because I’m always busy.”

This year, the Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund will send eight children to Camp Celo in Burnsville. They’re among 550 kids heading to 19 camps thanks to donations from newspaper readers and the community.

NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, the honorary fundraising chairman, challenged the community to raise $200,000 during this year’s campaign. The fund surpassed that goal last week, with donations totaling more than $215,000.

That’s the most donations received since the fund started in 2009 and breaks last year’s record of more than $160,000.

“It really highlights the generosity of our community and how much Charlotte values our young people,” Hendrick said through a spokesman. “Every dollar will go toward sending a child to summer camp and providing an experience they otherwise wouldn’t get to have.

“Even though we’ve set a record, there’s still a great need and plenty of work left to do. We have the opportunity to make an even bigger impact as the campaign continues.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled at the funds that have come in because we’ve always had more requests than we could grant,” Observer publisher Ann Caulkins said. “With the generosity of readers we will be able to send more deserving children to camp. This is great.”

The fund’s intent is to give children the chance to appreciate nature. Swimming is an important component, and so are reading and other activities designed to help kids avoid losing academic ground over the summer.

Without scholarships, many low-income kids, especially those from urban areas, wouldn’t have the opportunity.

Camp Celo views cultural diversity as a core mission and works to ensure that kids of different racial, ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds mix during the one-, two- and three-week sessions.

Bob and Dot Barrus took the farm over in 1955. They are Quakers, and back before schools were desegregated, their camp welcomed African-American and white children, “which in Appalachia in the 1950s was a big undertaking,” said their son, Gib.

Bob Barrus is now 97, Dot is 90, and they still live on the property. Gib, his wife Annie, and their nephew, Drew Perrin, run the camp.

Gib Barrus said his parents love to hear the children playing outside and want to know all about them. They’re always happy to hear when some had parents or grandparents who attended Camp Celo as children.

A day at Camp Celo begins with breakfast, followed by chores, which the kids rotate. A camper might have the not-so-fun chore of cleaning restrooms one day, and get the plum job of feeding baby animals the next.

Campers also hike, swim in a swimming hole and perform skits and plays. They write letters to their families. Counselors lead in sing-alongs. No electronic devices are allowed.

They range in age from 7 to 12. Many stay for two or three weeks, with costs between $1,000 to $2,150.

“I hope they go away with a feeling of accomplishment,” Gib Barrus said. “I don’t want it to be just a challenge to overcome, but a joy they’ll find in nature. I hope they learn how to get along with other people and I hope they’ll carry that through in their lives…and understand no matter what our ethnicity or religious beliefs, basically at our core, we’re all the same.”

Jackson Elliott embraces that get-along-with-everyone philosophy.

He’s the youngest of Melissa and T.C. Elliott’s four sons. His mom says she was nervous during his first trip, “and he came back and he was so excited and animated – I was worried sick and he didn’t have a care in the world.”

She said she wishes all kids could have the experience.

“We don’t have a farm – without this he wouldn’t have been introduced to one,” she said. “There are a lot of kids who don’t get to go to camp. We’re blessed to have this opportunity.”

Jackson, whose camp nickname is “Speedy” because he runs faster than everyone else during hide and seek, is busy planning his next Camp Celo trip.

He and his parents will make the two-hour drive from their Charlotte home up the winding mountain roads. He’ll reconnect with friends and counselors from the last two years, and settle in to farm life.

He has made friends from many different places. There was a boy from Canada and a girl from Hawaii who told him all about life in those places. A couple of second-generation campers hail from Spain and France.

He’s looking forward to the food, though it’s different from home. Normally Jackson likes his burgers and chicken but at Camp Celo, he eats many vegetarian meals. He’s developed a taste for Tofu and says, “The vegetable pizza is amazing. We eat vegetable pizza at my house, but it’s nothing like Camp Celo’s,” he said.

Nor are the chores, which could be the reason Jackson is especially tired after he comes home from Camp Celo. So tired, that even days later, his mom has to remind him to clean his room.

Which of course isn’t nearly as energizing as feeding baby animals.

To give to Summer Camp Fund

Donate at 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 in the Local section. 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.