Kids get taste of life on the farm

At Camp Celo, campers live close to nature and play an active role in the world around them.

The small family-run farm, north of Asheville in Burnsville, also is a camp. According to co-owner and director Gilbert Barrus, the camp has two goals: diversity and living with the land.

So campers who spend time there eat farm food. The campers help milk cows, pick squash, gather eggs and plant vegetables while also enjoying typical summer camp activities.

It's an experience that has a lasting impact.

Many youngsters get this experience thanks to the Summer Camp Fund, which sends underprivileged children to camp each summer.

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.

This year the fund will provide 173 scholarships to 13 camps. Sixty-eight percent of funding will go to camps in Mecklenburg County, and 32 percent to camps in other parts of the state.

"We're so grateful for the scholarship help that the Summer Camp Fund and others have provided because it really does two important things. It provides a great experience for the kids who are participants and provides a great diversity in our camp community which benefits all the children," Barrus said.

One particular scholarship recipient stands out in Barrus' mind.

Ahkeem, now 17, first arrived at Camp Celo several years ago. He slept in a tent, interacted with nature and went on backpacking trips through the mountains. The activities had a strong impact on him.

The camp only serves children through age 12, but Ahkeem returned at age 15 when he was old enough to be a volunteer. This will be his third summer as a junior counselor.

"The camp has helped Ahkeem to be a conscientious and positive leader," Barrus said. "He's really become a mentor to other children."

According to Barrus, there are many long-standing relationships with campers at Camp Celo.

Once a scholarship child has been identified, the camp will invite them back year after year if the need still exists.

Camp Celo also is one of the few camps that emphasizes longer sessions. It offers a one-week and a two-week session for younger kids, but encourages campers to attend one of the multiple three-week sessions.

"We feel like three weeks is a great opportunity for kids to really develop independence and become comfortable in this environment," Barrus said.

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