Oronde’ Nelson says if he sat home all summer, he might just play video games and get lazy.
He hasn’t gotten the chance.
He fished, swam, rode on a pontoon boat and camped out in the woods of the Appalachian foothills. He made some new friends, reconnected with kids he sees only at camp each summer and generally tired himself out.
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“I’m going home and I’m going to sleep,” he said. “Then maybe after that I’m going to do my laundry.”
His mom, Shirley Nelson, believes that healthy activity keeps kids focused. She says camp reinforces values stressed at their home: Respect and be considerate of others. Challenge yourself. Set a good example.
“I see where camp really develops his leadership skills,” she said.
This year, the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund will send 150 kids to Camp Walter Johnson in Denton, which is run by the Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Clubs. The fund will also send 107 kids to Camp Grimes in Nebo, which is run by the Boy Scouts’ Mecklenburg County Council. They’re among more than 1,000 kids attending 37 camps thanks to donations from readers and the community.
Camp gives kids the chance to immerse themselves in nature, and get away from the gadgets and screens that often occupy them. They swim to get stronger at it, and read to avoid the Summer Slide that can set them back academically. All are important components of the Summer Camp Fund’s mission.
As an active member of the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Boy Scouts, Oronde’, 14, is a summer camp veteran. And a very busy guy.
He’s a rising sophomore at South Mecklenburg High School, where he studies French in the school’s language immersion magnet. He plays school soccer and is also in the marching band.
Oronde’ started going to the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Marsh Road chapter about five years ago for after-school and summer programs. His mom, a deputy clerk at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, wanted an affordable after-school care and summer program where he’d be safely occupied while she worked.
She likes that he often has most of his homework done when she picks him up. “You want them to have good, constructive time – not too much idle time,” Nelson said.
Charles Smith, director of the Marsh Road unit, says kids in the program range from 6 to 18. Some come from the city’s poorest neighborhoods and may also have troubled family lives. Others, like Oronde’ come from stable homes with strong adults at the helm.
Both he and Oronde’s troop leader, Kelvin Benfield, say Oronde’ is a kid others look up to.
“I’ve never seen him have a bad day. He comes in every day with a smile, he has very good manners – he’s always willing to lend a hand to help people,” Smith said. “He’s very smart – he’s definitely got the potential to do a lot of great things.”
In Boy Scouts, Oronde’ is the senior patrol leader in charge at troop meetings. “He excels at whatever he does,” Benfield said. Take the car ride up to Camp Grimes, when he quizzed the other Scouts on sports trivia – “He’s very knowledgeable about sports.”
Orande’ says besides the physical, outdoor activities, the two camps offer interesting mental challenges.
At Camp Grimes he went to different classes to earn merit badges. He’ll have six when he leaves, in communications, forestry, weather, chemistry, chess and citizenship in the community.
At Camp Walter Johnson the teens focused on the theme of “Uncovering the Mystery.” They talked about God and Jesus and how some Bible stories pertain to their lives and tough situations they may face.
“It can help you diversify, so you see where different people are coming from,” Oronde’ said. “A friend I made from Winston-Salem is kind of countryish and a friend from Wilmington is kind of preppy. You can see multiple points of view.”
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.