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Summer Camp Fund: Behind every donation, there’s a story

Jamir Easter smiles as he paddles his kayak during a session with the Urban Outdoor Connection Camp at McDowell Nature Preserve in this photo from 2015. Easter attended the camp through Methodist Homes Recreation Center and was a recipient of a Summer Camp Fund Scholarship.
Jamir Easter smiles as he paddles his kayak during a session with the Urban Outdoor Connection Camp at McDowell Nature Preserve in this photo from 2015. Easter attended the camp through Methodist Homes Recreation Center and was a recipient of a Summer Camp Fund Scholarship. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Talk to people who have given to the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund, and one theme keeps coming up: gratitude.

Donors are grateful for summer camp experiences they had when they were kids. Grateful for the chance to get out and enjoy nature. And grateful for the chance to help kids grow up with those same experiences.

This year the fund aims to raise $215,000 to send hundreds of children to camp. As the campaign presses toward its goal, we asked donors to tell us what prompted them to give.

Working in the wealth management business, donor Jim Reichard spends much of the workweek behind a desk or in his car. But the former Boy Scout can’t wait for the weekends to hike, ride his bike, and soak in the sun.

He loves being outside, and wants to help ensure other children get the same chance to fall in love with nature as he did growing up in Ohio.

“I remember going to camp and being given a saw and some rope, and a group of us had to work together to saw all these trees down and build a bridge across a ravine to create a hiking trail,” said Reichard.

“To be able to work together and build that bridge brought me such a sense of accomplishment. I was probably 12 years old at the time and I am 58 now, and I still remember it. That kind of experience is priceless for a kid.”

Donor and former Boy Scout Randy Arthur agrees.

“Summer camp helps build confidence, overcome fears, and develop a respect for the outdoors,” said Arthur.

“These camp experiences have stayed with me and helped shape who I am. All kids should have this chance.”

He remembers summers at Camp Barstow in upstate South Carolina, hanging out with his buddies, and tackling the formidable mile-long swim in the lake.

“It was something that gave me a real sense of accomplishment,” said Arthur.

“A few years later he had the opportunity to look at summer camp from the other side when, at age 17, he worked as a counselor at Camp Pinnacle in Hendersonville.

“It was neat to be a mentor to 11- and 12-year-olds. They would come in scared and crying and walk away in two to three weeks with a smile on their face,” said Arthur.

Charlotte dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Rostan says that same camp-built confidence prompts her to donate year after year.

“I love donating to a fund that is all about giving kids the opportunity to learn and grow and gain confidence outside of their normal comfort zone. The team building and the friendships they make helps build their confidence, which is critical to success as they mature and become young adults.” Rostan said.

“I went to camp when I was young and loved it, and some of what I learned there will carry through my entire life. “

Donor Lisa Ellsworth says her three kids (ages 7, 10 and 12) love Camp Cheerio, and she and her husband, Brian, want to make sure other kids have the same experience.

She says she is also pleased that their contributions to the summer camp fund help promote diversity as kids from all economic backgrounds share new experiences, new friends, and new-found independence with one another.

Donors Holley Hamilton, a first grade teacher at Rama Road Elementary School, and her husband, Chris, believe that learning shouldn’t stop when summer starts.

“Chris and I believe that it is so important for all children to have summers that bring new experiences, new friends and lasting memories, “said Hamilton.

“It is important to us to make this possible for those who may not be able to do this otherwise.”

But the impact of the Summer Camp Fund really hit home when she read an Observer article about Brandy Magali-Palacios, a former student and a Girl Scout who began to show leadership qualities after attending camp.

“I taught Brandy in first grade; she just graduated from Rama this year,” said Hamilton.

“Her story cemented for us that children – even in this big city, children we know – are being positively affected and are benefiting from dynamic experiences.”

Reading their stories, it’s evident that summer camp had a profound effect on these donors, but Reichard says the impact reaches far beyond the individual camper.

A child’s summer camping experience can ultimately benefit society as a whole.

“Campers start to develop a sense of nature, an appreciation for the outdoors, for green space, for clean water. If you don’t have a sense of nature, then these issues don’t have as much meaning,” said Reichard.

“We have to help kids develop a sense of appreciation for our planet. It’s our house, and it’s up to all of us to take care of it.”

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: m.johnston@carolina.rr.com.

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