7 minute read

Camp Cole: A Place to Shine

Cole Carter was 11 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer. His big sister Kelsey, Camp Cole founder and executive director, then 13, watched as the lives of her family were turned upside down in an instant. So much change in such a short time left her yearning for the sense of normalcy and routine that their annual summer camp experience would bring, yet she feared it wouldn’t be possible due to the fragile state of Cole’s health.

But a local camp, equipped for the special needs of sick children, caught wind of her family’s situation and extended an invitation for both Cole and Kelsey to participate in their programming that year. They happily accepted and made cherished memories in what would be Kelsey’s last summer with her brother. Cole died the same year, 2004.

Cole and Kelsey’s mother, Stacy, vowed to build a camp site in his memory so that more children living with critical illnesses could experience the joy of an overnight camp the way Cole had. But tragedy struck the family again in 2016 when Stacy died suddenly after suffering a stroke. Stacy was a couple of years into the planning phase of Camp Cole by that time, and Kelsey moved back to Columbia to pick up the torch and continue her mother’s vision. She partnered with a friend who shared the experience of having lost someone she loved to cancer.

Margaret Deans Fawcett Grantz, Camp Cole founder and director of development and marketing, lost her childhood best friend to cancer in elementary school. This experience inspired her to spend many subsequent years as a camp volunteer. When Margaret Deans and Kelsey met in 2008, they bonded over their shared experiences of loss and their passion for serving others. Their Camp Cole partnership was a natural fit for the inspired young women, both under the age of 30. Kelsey was recently recognized as one of The State Newspaper’s 2020 “20 Under 40” honorees for the work her organization is doing.

Many generous local benefactors got behind Camp Cole’s mission, helping Kelsey and Margaret Deans break ground on what will be South Carolina’s newest camp facility for children living with illnesses and disabilities. The Fawcett family purchased and donated the land that

Camp Cole is being built on. Michael Nieri, owner of Irmo-based construction company, Great Southern Homes, was awarded a 2020 Hearthstone BUILDER Humanitarian Award, thanks in part to his company’s construction of Camp Cole’s residential quarters, which he built at no cost to the nonprofit organization.

Other benefactors include The Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger and Hood Construction. Hood Construction built the commercial side of the camp, also at no cost to Camp Cole. The Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger donated $100,000 to the organization in January of 2020. The law office’s February 2020 newsletter stated, “As a law firm that serves catastrophically injured people, we believe whole-heartedly in Camp Cole’s mission and vision and the good that it will bring to the Midlands and the state of South Carolina. We are excited to see the Sawyer and Fawcett families’ dream come to fruition when they break ground in April.”

A crew broke ground on the $10 million facility in April and expects to complete construction in May of 2021, just in time for their inaugural summer. The 40-acre campus, located just outside of Columbia in Eastover, is to be an idyllic home away from home for everyone who visits and will serve as a safe place to try new things, grow in confidence and independence, and share friendships with peers who face similar challenges and levels of capability. Important features to note are the patient exam rooms, respiratory equipment, etc., that make this camp safe, accessible, and inclusive.

Camp Cole collaborates with organized camps, also known as its “camp partners,” to deliver year-round, worldclass experience with world-class care. Some camp partners to date include Charleston-based Camp Rise Above, The United Service Organizations (the USO), and the Hive Community Circle, a Columbia-based organization helping women and girls overcome the trauma of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking.

The property is home to six cabins with 200 beds and 296 café seats. There is a zero-entry swimming pool, which is an inground swimming pool designed with an entry that has a very slight slope into the pool, providing a long, slow, gradual entry – versus traditional steps. There is a 35-acre pond, countless porches and play spaces, a welcome center, and much more. Take a virtual tour of the campus via a link on the Camp Cole website’s landing page.

Additional planned amenities include Rustin’s Art Shack, a designated space for arts, crafts, and other creative activities. In addition to a workspace for painting, sketching, and crafting, the Art Shack will feature a gallery wall and exhibit space to display campers’ creations. The Fawcett Family Gymnasium will provide ample space for organized sports, exercise, recreational fun, a large performance stage for talent shows, and a canteen stocked with drinks and snacks.

Available “Outdoor Adventures” will consist of ultra-accessible options ranging in size and scope from archery and kickball to scavenger hunts and farming. Kelsey and Margaret Deans want their campers to connect with the natural hab-

CAMP COLE collaborates with organized camps, also known as its “camp partners,” to deliver year-round, world-class experience with world-class care.

itat surrounding the campus and learn more about birds, bugs, and where food comes from. Campers can also look forward to a high and low ropes challenge course, a working garden, and a nature trail that has already gotten its start thanks to the efforts of a local Boy Scout. During “Waterfront Adventures,” trained and certified lifeguards and out-


1571 Crossing Creek Eastover SC (15 miles from Prisma Health Children’s Hospital) info@campcole.org 803-849-8697



door adventure experts will teach campers how to catch a fish or steer a canoe on that 35-acre pond. Races, obstacle courses, and sunset cruises will provide a different kind of therapy for campers.

The Therapeutic Riding Program, led by director and certified PATH Instructor Amanda Malanuk, will serve individuals ages four and older with a variety of disabilities and life challenges, including amputations, anxiety/depression, at-risk youth, autism, cerebral palsy, chronic illness, communication disorders, developmental delays, Down’s syndrome, epilepsy, genetic disorders, hearing impairment, hypotonia, intellectual disorders, learning differences, low self-esteem, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, sensory processing disorder, spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, stroke, terminal illness, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairments.

The therapeutic riding program dutifully abides by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) standards and is the only program of its kind in the greater Columbia area. The program is rooted in the science of establishing an engaging partnership between horse and rider. Some of the benefits of the program include increased confidence and communication; improved independence and self-reliance; motivation and social skills; adaptability and responsibility; balance, posture, and coordination; gross and fine motor skills; range of motion and flexibility; emotional regulation and self-control; and sensorimotor integration. Camp Cole Therapeutic Riding, like all of Camp Cole’s programming, is supported by donations from individuals, businesses, and foundations in the community. In addition to riding, groundwork – or the unmounted interactions of grooming, leading, feeding, and horse care – develops an important relationship between a horse and a human.

With so much to offer, Kelsey, Margaret Deans, and their dedicated team are chomping at the bit to step into full-time operation mode come summer 2021. Camp Cole plans to offer the options of weeklong, overnight camps; weekend, overnight camps; and day camps, too. The camp is a member of the American Camp Association (ACA), which is a community of more than 12,000 camp professionals that has been active for over 100 years. There are also plans to pursue American Camps Association (ACA) accreditation, an 18-month process, in 2022. The camp is looking to partner with and host more pre-existing camp organizations in the future and encourage any interested organizations to reach out and schedule a visit.

Visitors are sure to witness the spirits of Cole and Stacy shining brightly across the beautiful campus. n


The idea for Camp Cole was born from love and devotion but came to fruition thanks only to the generosity of individuals, families, businesses, and foundations who understand what the gift of camp experience can mean to child, teenager, or adult facing a serious illness or life challenge. If you would like to take part in furthering the Camp Cole cause, there are a variety of ways to show your support. Donations can be made via the organization’s website and are used to fund scholarships (it costs $850 for a camper to experience the magic of a week-long stay at Camp Cole), build amenities, recruit staff, and more.