Givers: Send a Kid to Camp

Send a Kid to Camp

by Hampton Williams Hofer
photograph by Missy McLamb

Not long ago, Mo Johnson used to drive through the heart of Southeast Raleigh in the summertime and see children outside throwing cups of water at each other in the throbbing heat. They were sweltering, and there was nothing else to do. She would pull up to deliver meals and find them waiting on her, hungry. Johnson directs the Garner Road Community Center, which serves a stretch of low-income families. She was desperate to find a way to provide structure for her outreach kids – 90 percent of whom receive free and reduced school lunch – when school was not in session.

Then at a conference three years ago, she ran into Libby Richards, a director at the Triangle Community Foundation. Richards told Johnson about a Community Foundation grant that could help to solve her summer problem. It’s called Send a Kid to Camp, and since 1984, it has funded camp tuition for more than 11,600 children across Wake, Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.

“Send a Kid to Camp couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Johnson, “since vouchers for children were cut across the state, sending kids aged 8 and above home to empty houses to care for themselves. Now, they get a real summer – roller skating, bowling, fishing, many of them for the first time. They get to sit at the head of the table on their birthdays. They get a hug in the morning and someone who looks at them and says, ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’

This summer, Send a Kid to Camp will make tuition-assistance grants to 16 nonprofit camps selected by a committee of community members. These camps vary in type, exposing kids to everything from photography to archery, and every single one of them offers children a summer experience that would be otherwise unattainable.

There’s Camp Royall, the nation’s oldest camp for people with autism, which sits on 133 acres near Pittsboro and offers typical camp experiences like boating and hiking. There’s the YMCA’s Camp High Hopes, where kids learn everything from basketball to leadership skills, at little or no cost. There’s the Wade Edwards Foundation and Learning Lab (WELL) summer camp, which received its first grant last summer: “We focused on attracting girls and students of color to our STEM programs,” says director Betsey McFarland, “giving them the opportunity to explore things like computer programming, robotics, and engineering.”

The Send a Kid to Camp program helps ensure that the basic needs of our community’s most vulnerable children are met. But it’s also about allowing them all of the deep-end dives and drippy popsicles that a summer should rightfully entail. It’s about keeping them active, stimulated, and engaged. There are zoo trips and movie nights and arcade visits.

At the same time, all of the camp directors also have another major objective: preventing what they call the “summer slide.” When kids spend 11 weeks out of the classroom without being encouraged to read a book or run through their multiplication tables, their skills get rusty. That’s why the camps in the Send a Kid to Camp program also mix in serious academic programs along with all that entertainment, sending children back to their classrooms in August with momentum. 

Books first

Candace Tyner, who directs the White Oak Foundation summer camp, has made academics the basis of her program. Like any good teacher, she disguises it as fun, having the children create their own monopoly games based on math facts, or write rap songs about overcoming bullying. 

Still, she’s got her work cut out for her, delivering math and writing instruction to 50 children ages 4-14 in tiny, scattered classrooms in the 150-year-old White Oak Baptist Church. “We make it work,” she says. Because of the Send a Kid to Camp grant, many of the campers attend the five-week all-day camp for free. They take field trips to local museums and, last summer, went on official college tours at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State: “We want to show the kids what’s possible, what we know they can achieve,” Tyner says.

White Oak earned its Send a Kid to Camp grant thanks to volunteer Juanita Hunter-Young, who remembers her own strict elementary school grammar teacher holding a chalkboard pointer inches from her nose. “She taught me how to write. She changed my life,” says Hunter-
Young, who wants to do the same for White Oak’s campers.

She’s able to try thanks to those very same writing skills, which made her grant application stand out, and ultimately won funding for their summer camp three years ago.

“Learning is everything,” she says, “We recognize our community as low-to-moderate-income. The only way to break the cycle of poverty is through education.” She gestures to 11-year-old Joyah Horton sitting next to her. Kids like Horton, she says, are “why we do this.”

Horton has attended White Oak camp for the past six summers, and is an honor roll student at Northside Elementary in Chapel Hill. “If I didn’t come here, I’d have to go to work with my dad in the burning hot sun all day landscaping yards,” Horton says, “Here, I can be with my friends. We do projects and presentations, and last summer we went to the movies – that was my favorite thing.” Tyner and the other teachers at White Oak camp work closely with the school system, asking for report cards and targeting specific areas where the kids need academic improvement. Some teachers have even called to refer their students to the camp. Last year, 75 percent of the children who attended White Oak camp earned A/B Honor Roll status. Every single graduating high school student this spring who attended White Oak will enter college this fall.

Needless to say, parents are thrilled. “I feel at ease because my child is safe, cared for, and most importantly, she’s not losing what she learned during the school year,” says White Oak parent Valerie
Horton. But the kids themselves might be the camp’s biggest fans. “Prior to the grant, summer had no meaning for these kids,” says Garner Road’s Mo Johnson, “and now? Now, it’s the wait worth a hundred smiles.”

want to send a kid to camp? here’s how