Summer Camp Fund breaks record by raising $141,229.73

Hundreds of Charlotte-area children from low-income families will make memories at camp next summer, thanks to the generosity of Charlotte Observer readers and the community, who donated a record $141,229.73 for the newspaper’s 2013 Summer Camp Fund.

Last Sunday, fund honorary chairman Hugh McColl Jr. asked readers for one last surge of generosity to reach the fund’s $100,000 goal. That amount was needed to receive a $20,000 challenge grant from the Leon Levine Foundation.

Readers far surpassed the goal. The biggest donation of the week came from Rick and Linda Hendrick, who pledged $10,000 on Tuesday. Hendrick is chairman of Hendrick Automotive Group and Hendrick Motorsports.

“I’m extremely gratified by the generosity of all of the people who have supported the fund,” McColl said. “To have raised more than $100,000 from gifts as small as $5 to as large as $10,000 is an astounding success and it speaks volumes about the people who live here in our region.

“The good news is that the recipients of this generosity will be young people who will get camp experiences that they otherwise would never have had,” he continued. “People who have been so generous have done a world of good.”

McColl said Hendrick phoned him with his $10,000 pledge.

“He and his family have been tremendously helpful to children coming from disadvantaged situations, so this is nothing new to him,” McColl said.

Rick Hendrick said he learned of the camp fund while reading the newspaper and decided it was a worthy cause.

“We thought it was a wonderful thing for kids here in Charlotte and wanted to join the many other readers who have gotten involved,” he said.

Last year, the Summer Camp Fund raised about $80,000, which paid for 206 children to attend 12 day and overnight camps this summer.

Thanks to the record number of donations, more than 300 children are expected to be able to attend camp next summer.

Ann Caulkins, publisher of The Charlotte Observer, says she was “blown away” by the response from readers throughout this year’s campaign.

“The generosity and support from our readers and key supporters has been inspirational,” Caulkins said.

“What we’re all about is wanting to change the lives of children by giving them that summer camp experience,” Caulkins said. “In having this record-breaking year with the Summer Camp Fund, we can do that” on a bigger level, she said.

Camp directors say the scholarship money enriches not only the lives of children who receive the funds, but all children at camp.

“There are so many families that are struggling financially trying to raise their children with autism,” said Sara Gage, director of Camp Royall, a residential camp near Pittsboro for people of all ages with autism.

Nearly a third of the 340 campers at Camp Royall receive financial assistance from a range of scholarships including the Observer’s.

“We wouldn’t be able to serve all the campers we do without financial support like this,” Gage says.

At Camp Thunderbird, a residential camp on Lake Wylie run by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, Gretchen Rohleder, senior development officer for Camp Thunderbird and Camp Harrison, said that having scholarship campers “is really key for all of our campers, not just for the campers who are there on financial aid.”

“Part of what’s so special about camp is that children are able to make friendships and learn and grow in an environment that is diverse.”

At least 10 percent of campers at Camp Thunderbird are on scholarships, she said.

Tom Lawrence, executive director for the Leon Levine Foundation, said he was pleased to give the $20,000 challenge grant.

“We’re very proud that Charlotte has risen to the challenge of supporting these children, and we are excited to make this $20,000 contribution,” Lawrence said.