A chance for youngsters to open up and blossom

Summer camps offer special memories for kids - and counselors.

Consider this experience by a counselor last year at Camp Grier, east of Asheville.

Brittany White quickly befriended a shy girl who was terrified of bugs when she arrived at camp. When outside, White would spray a circle of bug repellent for the camper to sit in.

"In my mind I was thinking, 'This is going to be a difficult week,'" White said. "But soon enough, all the kids were adjusting and having fun and it was really amazing to watch this little camper open up and blossom. She held my hand all week long."

At the end of the week, the campers, who are in cabins during their stay, hike to a camp site where they sleep in tents for one night.

On the way back, White and her little charge were falling behind when they approached a steep incline called Heart Attack Hill.

"We were both so tired and she just looked at me and said, 'I don't know if I want to climb this,'" White said.

White took the girl's hand and said, "We're going to yell out a war cry."

They let out three loud screams and headed up the hill.

"It was a turning point for me as a counselor," White said. "Some things are hard for certain kids, but something as simple as a war cry can get them to do something they didn't think they could do."

When the camper left, the 22-year-old White cried.

The Summer Camp Fund hopes to provide similar camp experiences each year for underprivileged kids.

The Summer Camp Fund is an effort by the nonprofit POST (Partners in Out-of-School-Time) and The Charlotte Observer.

Readers are asked to make monetary donations so young people can attend camps in a safe, supervised atmosphere. The fund will provide 173 scholarships to 13 camps this year. Sixty-eight percent of funding will go to camps in Mecklenburg County, and 32 percent to camps in other parts of the state.

Camp Grier, 20 minutes east of Asheville, opened in 1952. It offers rising second-graders through high school kids the opportunity to explore the natural wonders of Pisgah National Forest. There are activities such as canoeing, fire-building, crafts, games and environmental education.

Because the camp is jointly owned by the Presbyteries of Charlotte, Salem and Western North Carolina, the camp also offers Bible study and quiet reflection time. This helps children experience God through nature, and hones reading and writing skills.

Camp director David Cohn said, "A lot of kids who come to Camp Grier have never really been outside before. They're so used to the city and concrete. It's really exposing them to a different part of life in a fun and nurturing way."

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