Zoe Tuckman remembers when she was too young to go to 4H camp with her big sisters.
Picking them up after their week away was the worst. On the way home to Charlotte, Aliyah and Hannah would sing their new camp songs –very loudly – which frustrated her, and drove their parents crazy.
It was a relief when all that singing made them lose their voices.
“I was so excited once it was finally my turn to go,” says Zoe, who’s now 12. “I’ve had a really great time. It’s so much fun to meet new people, that’s how I’ve met some of my closest friends.”
At 4H camp they ride horses, steer kayaks and hike. They swim, climb rock walls and make friends from different backgrounds. At about $420 for a week, it’s one of the more affordable sleep away camps and the Tuckmans budget for it each year (once with a partial scholarship when all three went at the same time).
But many children from poor families couldn’t go without help. That’s why the Tuckmans help the 4H organization in Mecklenburg County raise money for scholarships for kids who can’t afford it.
“In Charlotte, unless you have some means, you’re not going to be able to do a lot of this stuff,” the girls’ mother, Stephanie Tuckman said. “4H is one way they can. We put our children in there so they can see the whole gamut…low-income, middle-income, upper-income; everybody is welcome, everybody can do this.”
This year, The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund will send 62 children from the Carolinas to 4H camps. They’re among more than 1,000 kids from mostly low-income families heading to 37 camps, thanks to donations from readers and the community.
They 4H campers live in areas ranging from Charlotte’s inner city to Cleveland County in North Carolina, and to Chester, York and Lancaster counties in South Carolina.
The 4H’s stand for head, heart, hands and health. (“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living,” is the 4H mantra.)
For many, the trip to camp will be a first.
Chester County 4H program director Robin Currence says she’s grateful for the Summer Camp Fund scholarships, which will give more children an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“We’ve got people who’ve fallen on hard times because they’ve lost a job. We have families with a single working mom who’s trying to stretch the paycheck for two kids,” Currence said. “These are people who are trying very hard but the money is just not there for the extra things.”
Chester County kids attending 4H Camp have taken swimming lessons at the local YMCA. And this year, there’s a new library area freshly stocked with books at the 4H Camp in Aiken, which is run by Clemson University.
Adding the swimming lessons and library to the program was inspired by the Summer Camp Fund, Currence said. The camp fund’s mission is to connect kids to nature, have them swim for fun and water safety, and sharpen their literacy skills to prevent the “Summer Slide” that often hurts them academically when the new school year begins.
“The Summer Camp Fund has really made a difference,” Currence said. “We very much appreciate it.”
Mecklenburg County 4H campers will head to the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4H Center, set on about 200 acres in Reidsville, just north of Greensboro.
The Tuckman sisters say some of their best times have occurred there. They say they’ve learned a lot about teamwork and leadership and embracing new experiences such as a rock-climbing.
Aliyah, 18, just graduated from South Mecklenburg High School and is heading to Appalachian State University in August, where she’ll major in special education. Hannah, 16, just finished her sophomore year at South Mecklenburg and hopes for a future in forensics or microbiology.
Sadly, both have summer jobs and other commitments and won’t be able to go to camp this year. So while they’re home working, Zoe, who just finished 7th grade at Quail Hollow Middle School, will be off swimming and hiking and singing camp songs.
“I’m going to be so envious when my sister goes,” Aliyah said. “If I could go back, I definitely would,” Hannah wistfully agreed.
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 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.