The magic of summer camp lasts a lifetime

Camp Thunderbird's personnel director Kaye Carraway has witnessed the power of summer camp.

Carraway and her husband, Bill, have worked at Camp Thunderbird for 35 years. They met there in 1977 as counselors and they've been back every summer since.

She still gets excited about the transformation she sees in the kids.

"Children of all ages come to us and stay for just a while, but are touched for a lifetime," she said recently.

"There truly is magic on these shores of Lake Wylie. When you come through the gates, whether you are 6 or 60 years old, you leave all of your worries behind. I have personally witnessed it time and time again."

That's one reason the Summer Camp Fund provides camp scholarships for economically disadvantaged children. The fund is an effort of 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.

Carraway says camp is a place where everyone is accepted and everyone finds their niche.

"Everyone finds something they are good at here," she said.

"And you can do things you can't do at home. You can splash in mud puddles and no one will tell you that it's not OK. Campers learn how to take care of themselves and learn self-worth. They learn how to set goals and how to talk to their counselor and ask for help in achieving them."

But the real magic, she says, lies in the relationships that campers build with one another and with their counselors, including Carraway.

This spring she attended the wedding of a camp friend who first came to Camp Thunderbird at age 13.

"He credits camp not with impacting his life, but rather with saving his life. Camp gave him a sense of security and accomplishment. It provided him a stable 'family' he had not previously experienced," Carraway said.

She says his groomsmen were his camp co-counselors from years past.

Carraway tells of another former camper, a third-year law student, who is serving as a volunteer counselor for a few weeks this summer.

Carraway says many former campers who have received scholarship assistance at camp and have gone on to serve as counselors want to continue to help however they can.

"That's why we keep coming back year after year. The relationships that are forged here are the ones that stand the test of time," she said. "Summer after summer, I've seen kids grow in their faith, in their self-confidence and develop lasting friendships that they will keep for a lifetime. There is no gift better given than to send a kid to camp."