Daniel Anglin used to avoid the swimming pool. Now it’s his favorite place.
It took a lot of encouragement from camp counselors to get him in at first, but this summer he replaced his usual life jacket with a yellow wrist band. He can now splash around in the shallow end without help. He hopes to earn the coveted green band of an independent swimmer with access to the whole pool.
“To have the confidence to take off that life jacket was a really big thing for him,” his mother, Francine Molina-Anglin, said.
She’s seen dramatic changes in Daniel since he first went to day camp at the Lincoln County YMCA two years ago. Now 10, he’s much more comfortable in social situations than his autism once allowed.
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After a stressful third grade, “He did phenomenally in fourth grade,” she said. “The Y made him confident in his ability to perform academically.”
In the midst of a summer overshadowed by domestic and international terrorism, and with violence and mistrust festering in American cities, some camps across the Carolinas are quietly working to give kids the lift they need to overcome poverty and the divides it creates.
“It gives them skills of leadership, and making new friends and solving problems together,” says Jenny Drennen, senior program director of the Lincoln County YMCA. “It’s not a place where we take care of kids – it’s a place where we open their minds to possibilities … that where they are is not where they have to end up.”
The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund exists to give kids opportunities – through a summer camp experience – to help them rise above poverty’s obstacles. It’s a crucial issue in Charlotte, the toughest big American city for a child from a low-income family to rise to a middle-class adulthood, according to a major study.
The 2014 study ranked Charlotte 50 out of the 50 largest metro areas, according to researchers at Harvard University and others. The study noted several factors with mobility: segregation, family structures, inequality, social capital and school systems.
In response, Charlotte leaders formed an economic mobility task force to attack the problem on multiple fronts.
‘Helps build a child’
Quality summer camps are an important tool for increasing social mobility because they keep children active, challenged and learning new skills, says Victor Mack, Director of Educational Outreach for the College of Education at UNC Charlotte.
Many children now go to schools segregated by race and economic status. Kids from low-income families too often don’t get the exposure to nature, swimming and the arts that their more affluent peers do, he said.
That hurts them as they try to climb out of poverty, he said.
“The most important aspect is the social aspect. We need to make sure they get diverse experiences, in a non-threatening environment, where they’re not assigned grades,” Mack said.
“It's a huge tool in increasing social mobility,” says Leslie Rink, volunteer center director for The United Way of Central Carolinas. Studies show that low-income children who attend summer camps and programs with a strong literacy component go back to school with gains in reading levels. Those who don't often have reading setbacks, she said.
A summer camp challenge, from hiking to learning to swim, “Helps build a child, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and gets them out of their neighborhoods … and helps them tackle something they thought they couldn't.”
This year, the Summer Camp Fund is sending nearly 300 children to day camps across the Carolinas. They’re among more than 1,000 kids heading to 37 day and sleep-away camps because readers and the community donated money to send them.
As the annual fund-raising drive enters its final weeks, the fund needs about $70,000 more to reach its $190,000 goal. Meeting that goal would help the fund qualify for grants of another $25,000.
And that means as many as 220 more children will be able to attend camp next summer.
Escape from New York
In Lincolnton, where 90 percent of children receive free and reduced-price lunch at school, the Lincoln County YMCA works with parents, counselors and children’s advocates to get them to summer camp, Drennen said.
Molina-Anglin says her family has experienced true kindness since moving to Lincolnton five years ago to escape the gangs, poverty and failing schools in her Bronx, N.Y., neighborhood.
There, her kids didn’t play outside because of shootings and drug dealers. While it was tough to leave extended family, she wanted her sons to grow up in a safer environment with more opportunities.
Daniel was 5 and non-verbal autistic when they moved. In New York, she was told that he wouldn’t be able to talk until he was 9, and probably wouldn’t read until he was 11.
In Lincolnton, she found a welcoming community that wanted to help. A self-described over-protective mother, she started as a volunteer at her sons’ elementary school and is now a teacher’s assistant.
Daniel now speaks in full sentences, reads on grade level and has thrived socially. She credits the YMCA camp for much of that. Daniel and his brother Ethan, 7, love the days they spend there.
They shoot hoops with counselors, play soccer and run around the track. They go on walks to a nearby creek to search for bugs and salamanders. They’ve hiked Crowders Mountain.
“Daniel is very shy but he has the biggest heart. He wants to make sure that everyone is happy, and that everyone has a friend. Ethan is very smart and very energetic. He will keep you on your toes,” Molina-Anglin said.
The hike was a challenge for Daniel. When counselors realized that he was struggling, they deputized him as a counselor so he could help lead the younger kids. He carried a Walkie-Talkie and told everyone about his new summer job.
“We were climbing up a high mountain and we learned about nature. Someone said there were bears there, but there were no bears,” Daniel said, sounding slightly disappointed.
As a single mother in the process of a divorce, Molina-Anglin said she struggles, but doesn’t intend to let current circumstances dictate her children’s future. She’s grateful for the scholarships that brought them to camp.
“You can see the impact the Y camp has on their lives, emotionally, socially and physically. It’s an amazing experience for any child,” she said. “They learn life-long lessons. I think every child should go to camp.”
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.
If the Observer’s Summer Camp Fund reaches its $190,000 goal, as many as 220 more kids will be able to attend camp next summer.