Caption: Votes and donations to Walton Gas’s Champions for Charity help kids like Mei Ting have a life-changing experience at Camp Twin Lakes.
The stares and finger pointing happen a lot. Even worse are hurtful questions like “What’s wrong with her?” Mei Ting and her family have heard and seen it all when encountering strangers.
Claire is accustomed to feeling different, too. At school, she stands out from classmates because of the backpack of emergency medication she always carries. When there’s a birthday party, she can’t indulge in the cake the other kids eat because of the strict diet she must follow.
But one week last summer forever changed the lives of Mei Ting and Claire. They got to be regular kids. Walton Gas customers helped make that possible.
Finding their ‘happy place’
Both girls were among the 10,000 Georgia children who attended camping sessions at Camp Twin Lakes, top vote getter in this year’s Walton Gas Champions for Charity. The nonprofit provides life-changing camp experiences for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges.
“It’s my happy place,” said Claire, who suffers from epileptic seizures. Last summer she attended a weeklong overnight camp for children with medically controlled epilepsy and other seizure disorders.
Caption: Camper Claire calls Camp Twin Lakes her ‘happy place.’
“I know I’m not alone at camp because there are so many other kids that have a special diet and take medicine for seizures, just like me,” she said.
Mei Ting, who has a craniofacial disorder, was also a first-timer at Camp Twin Lakes last year. She spent a week with “kids who are like me.”
When her 9-year-old returned from camp, she was a changed person, said Erin, Mei Ting’s mother.
“She was bursting with pride, full of confidence,” Erin said, describing the camp’s effect on her daughter. “It was the best thing we could have ever done for her.”
At Camp Twin Lakes, Mei Ting’s appearance isn’t the subject of ridicule. “I feel beautiful every day,” she said.
Paying the way
Walton Gas customers support Camp Twin Lakes campers like Mei Ting and Claire through Champions for Charity. In the last five years, Champions donations helped pay camp fees for 113 children.
“Every child receives a scholarship to help pay for the camp. All the proceeds from Walton Gas’s Champions for Charity help us fund these scholarships,” said Cheryl Belair, Camp Twin Lakes director of development. “It’s very rare that any cost for camp is passed along to a camper’s family.”
During the 2019 season, Walton Gas donated $1,000 to Champions for Charity for every University of Georgia football regular season win. On the way to repeating as the SEC Eastern Division champion, the Dawgs posted 11 regular-season victories, adding $11,000 to the donation total. Another $5,000 was tacked on for the team’s New Year’s Day Sugar Bowl win.
In addition, every new Walton Gas customer can choose between receiving a $25 bill credit or donating that amount to Champions for Charity. Every customer donation is matched by Walton Gas, meaning another $50 is added to the year’s Champions for Charity contribution.
The total donation is divided among three charities — Camp Twin Lakes, the Salvation Army and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta — based on the percentage of votes received. As the top vote getter, Camp Twin Lakes will take home the biggest portion of the donations for a second consecutive year. This year’s total will be finalized after May 30, the last day of the giving period.
Belair encourages Walton Gas customers to keep on voting for Camp Twin Lakes when the next round of Champions for Charity begins. Camp officials recently announced that a third year-round camp location is being added to the network, giving more children the opportunity to enjoy a camping experience.
"We are breaking ground on a new campsite in Rutledge this spring, which will allow us to serve 3,500 more campers each year,” said Belair. “The scholarships funded by Champions for Charity will become even more necessary because we’ll have more kids.”
The Camp Twin Lakes representative thanked Walton Gas and its customers for their commitment to the camp and those it serves. “Because of your generosity, we’re able to grow to serve even more children in need.”