Her favorite Bible story is David and Goliath.
Janae Whaley believes that smart thinking, hard work and faith can help a little guy defeat a giant.
David used a rock and slingshot. Janae arms herself with goals: Correctly spell the word “hippopotamus” at a spelling bee. Check. Improve her math and reading skills. Check. Read 30 books in a month. In progress.
She faced a big roadblock the first time she went to Camp Walter Johnson. She was 8 that summer and had to stay in the shallow end of the pool because she couldn’t swim. When she got home to Charlotte, she vowed to learn. “My brother taught me a little, then I taught myself the rest.”
The next summer she passed the swim test on the first day and has proudly worn a proficient swimmer’s band since.
Now 12, Janae can’t wait to get back to that beautiful pool at the camp run by the Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Clubs. She’s looked forward to it all year. She’ll jump off the diving board and swim in the deep end.
She’ll wake up early each morning to say the Pledge of Allegiance and raise the flagpole, then fall exhausted into her cabin bunk bed at night. In between, she’ll sing in the talent show, eat food that tastes better than her school lunch and hike in the woods.
She’s one of 100 kids from some of the area’s toughest neighborhoods who will go to the camp on a scholarship from The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund. The fund will send almost 550 kids to 19 camps this year thanks to donations from newspaper readers and the community.
The camp fund’s intent is to connect the children to nature, strengthen swimming skills and keep them reading and learning over the summer. This year’s honorary fundraising chairman, NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, has urged the community to step up so more children from low-income families can experience summer camp.
Camp is one of the outlets the Boys and Girls Clubs offer kids from neighborhoods where poverty-spawned Goliaths include high rates of crime, violence and addiction; and low rates of academic achievement, upward mobility and family stability.
The Boys and Girls Clubs also run neighborhood centers for children to gather for after-school and summer supervision.
“We want to make sure all kids are on an equal playing ground – and that they’re safe,” said Shelley Henderson of The Salvation Army. “We serve neighborhoods where kids often don’t have other options but the streets.”
Janae became a member of The Boys and Girls Clubs when her family moved from Charleston, S.C., to Dillehay Courts, an aging north Charlotte public housing complex. On most days they’re not in school, she and dozens of other kids head to the weathered, one-story brick building that serves as the club’s neighborhood headquarters.
They read, play games and eat. Janae, a rising seventh-grader at Druid Hills Academy, is a junior staff member and helps watch the little kids. Club highlights include field trips to places such as Ray’s Splash Planet and The Harvey B. Gantt Center.
The staff has selected Janae as the “Youth of The Month” five times. You get that honor by “Being respectful, on your best behavior, and helping out. You have to be honest, you can’t lie,” she said. “To me, that’s easy, I just do what I always do.”
Her favorite club activity is the week she spends each summer at the camp in Denton, which is about 60 miles north of Charlotte. From the Bible stories to the campfire s’mores to the new friends, Janae loves it all.
She also likes learning about new places and wants to travel when she’s older.
In the meantime, she plans to stay on the honor roll, graduate from high school and win a scholarship to Harvard University. She wants to be a dentist because she knows lots of people have problems with their teeth. After researching different colleges, she decided that Harvard is the best.
Janae belongs to reading and math clubs, plays basketball and participates in spelling bees. She likes that Druid Hills is one of the area’s few year-round schools: “Because sometimes you forget things over summer break, it helps you more so you can get ahead.”
She says her end-of-grade test scores showed how much she grew academically – her 4’s for both reading and math put her on the high end of the scale.
Janae knows she’ll need to work hard and stay focused to keep her plan in action.
“So I keep a calendar,” she said. “I have my mind set on one goal until I accomplish it, then I move on to another. And that will help you succeed in life.”
To give to Summer Camp Fund
Donate at charlotteobserver.com/summercampfund. Or send donations to The Summer Camp Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269.
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If you have questions about your donation: 704-358-5520.