“It’s more than a camp; it’s an attitude… and changing attitudes changes lives.”
When most kids go camping, they don’t get on a plane and fly across the country. But for Kim Jackson and her son, Jacob, traveling from North Carolina to California was their yearly routine.
Jackson is a “cardiac kid,” and at the time he became old enough to want to experience the joys of overnight summer camp, there were no local camps prepared to accept the medical needs of children with congenital heart disease.
Both Jacob and Kim loved camp. Jacob made amazing friends. Kim was able to have the parenting experience of seeing her child thrive in an environment where his needs were cared for and understood.
Back home in Charlotte, Kim would share their California experiences with their support group, Levine Cardiac Kids. Adrienne Mauntel, President of the Camp LUCK Board of Directors, said, “Kim and her son would go to camp every summer. Kim would come back and say, ‘We need to start a camp. But parents were skeptical.”
Then, a new cardiologist named René Herlong moved into the area. Through past camp experiences, René had a relationship with Jay “Bird” Thompson, the director of Camp Cherokee at Kings Mountain State Park in Blacksburg, South Carolina.
According to the Camp LUCK Website, Jay and René “had a vision of creating a summer camp for children with significant heart disease.” So they pitched their idea to the Levine Cardiac Kids support group. Of course, Kim and her son were very much on board. “This melding of passions was the spark that ignited others to join in on the effort, and Camp LUCK was born.”
Having an overnight camp for medically complex cardiac children was a radical idea for the Charlotte area. To get families used to the idea, and to help them become familiar with the environment and experience, Family Camp was introduced in 2010.
Family Camp is a weekend event for the entire family. It runs at the beginning of camping season, from a Friday through Sunday in May. It is for heart kids of all ages and their families, but it also presents a special chance for families with younger children to participate in the camp experience. “It’s a great opportunity for families to meet other families with congenital heart defects or disease,” said Adrienne.
The first Family Camp was such a success that the planning team immediately formed a Board of Directors and started working toward their goal of creating a Kids Camp. However, as told in the Camp LUCK history:
“Several months after our first Family Camp, Jacob Jackson died after his last of many surgeries for his heart defect. The Camp LUCK community was devastated, but we all knew how much Jacob wanted to have a Kids Camp for his friends with heart problems. Jacob’s death turned that spark into a bonfire! All of us were re-energized to create this camp as Jacob’s legacy.”
Jacob’s memory carried over into all of the planning. Kids Camp opened in August of 2012. Staff and volunteers made their dream come true. “Heart kids” were able to be “normal kids.” They enjoyed traditional camp activities such as swimming, hiking, athletics, canoeing, archery, dancing, and rock climbing.
And some of the most important experiences that came from attending Camp LUCK were learned during cabin life. With proper support staff there to help administer medications and manage medical needs, children were free to practice social skills, self-reliance, and decision making away from home.
This year, Camp LUCK will be hosting its 9th year of Family Camp and 7th year of Kids Camp.
They will continue to meet their mission “to encourage, comfort and empower those affected by congenital heart disease and to provide a healthy, worry-free (medically supervised) camp environment focused on nurturing the development of Lucky Unlimited Cardiac Kids.”
More Than Just A Camp
But Camp LUCK is more than just a camp. They offer support programs to families in the Charlotte area throughout the year. Baby LUCK is a program for families that have children under the age of seven. They get together for support and recreation every other month.
On opposite months, Camp LUCK organizes Heart Family Dinners. Dinners are held at Levine Children’s Hospital and are free of charge. Speakers are brought in to give advice on topics relevant to heart kids, such as how to improve appetite and increase caloric intake, the latest technological advances in cardiology, or even how to navigate behavior and medical trauma at home.
Because Camp LUCK is a 501(c) 3, they receive funding in a variety of ways. Grants, individual contributions, and large fundraisers are what keep the program running.
Their two primary fundraisers are Bike LUCK in April, and another fundraiser in the fall. Presented by The Charlotte Knights, Bike LUCK is open to anyone and everyone who wants to participate. Bike LUCK includes several biking options, including a 25-mile route, a 45-mile route, and a 60-mile route. All contributions are 100% tax deductible. Details can be found on the Camp LUCK website under the Events page.
Amazed by everything Camp LUCK has accomplished? Want to volunteer, donate, or participate? You can find complete information on their website at www.campluck.com. You can also call 704-240-1041, or write to P. O. Box 5159; Charlotte, NC; 28299.