Former Wolfpack player and wife hosting online camp to help girls 'soar'

KINSTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- A lot of camps across the country have been forced to close because of COVID-19 while others are flourishing on digital platforms including one camp here in North Carolina that's been able to expand to campers in other states.

"When we were in eastern North Carolina I would say mostly kids," Margo Dawson said. "It was majority kids who were high-risk and then we would have some other kids sprinkled in as well. We didn't know what was going to happen this year. Not only did we recruit girls from Raleigh ... Kinston, New Bern, we recruited girls from Maryland and Virginia Beach. How do you turn people away?"

Dawson and her husband, former NFL and NC State player Dr. Lin Dawson started a non-profit in his hometown of Kinston to rebuild, reclaim and restore eastern North Carolina, and since 2014, every summer they have put on STEM education camps.

This year, with COVID-19, they didn't know whether a summer camp would be possible.

"Normally, we would start planning in January recruiting and raising funds for the camp," Margo Dawson said. "With COVID of course, all of our plans were halted. We started probably in May. We had to quickly put it out there.

"The difference this year is people aren't giving a lot of funding for summer camps with corporations. Usually, we raise about $6,000, $7,000. This year we only raised $1,000 from PNC bank; they supported our technology efforts. Everything else is just coming from private donors seeing all of the stuff we've done.

Dawson said they were able to quickly recruit youngsters for camp.

"We had to get waivers out, and doing Zoom, it's a whole different ballgame with safety and insurance and all of that. We got all of that down and built a curriculum," she said.

Margo Dawson and her daughter, Jelyse, decided to shift the curriculum this year and chose a new theme -- Fit to Soar -- designed for middle-school girls to help them be strong enough to excel through fitness, college and careers.

" It's really never too early or too late to get middle school students and high school students interested in what they can be," Jelyse Dawson said. "The key is allowing them to see people who look like them who are doing it, and allow them to say, 'this is what I was like in middle school, these are the classes I took in high school and this is what college was like for me if you choose to go to college.' All of those components really help the kids to soar."

Every morning the girls start with yoga and finish with cardio in the afternoon and during camp, they hear from various speakers. The Dawsons said the camp is a way to get girls excited about how to take care of their minds and bodies.

"Normally our camps are co-ed, so we always have boys and girls, but something, I guess, special about this year, I said 'Hey Mom, how about we focus on girls?'" Jelyse Dawson said. "This is our first virtual camp, let's focus on girls and let's also bring in women that look like them, women with interesting careers."

All the speakers this year are female and Jelyse Dawson said they are from varied fields including law, engineering, celebrity makeup artists and entrepreneurs.

"When you look at the speakers it's amazing," Margo Dawson said. "Indian, Black, White, Asian; it's just amazing. I think that's been amazing for the girls. The biggest thing is they're saying I can't believe how they started out. One girl who had her bar set pretty low, by Friday, said if she can come here and learn a new language and now, she's at a big job ... I can do that. We're seeing the transformation take place."

The camp hopes to be able to get funding to carry on this e-learning platform throughout the school year.

For more information on the camp or to help fund a camp, click here.
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