Stepping inside Camp Frances, you would never know the facility had struggled for years to remain open. New paint, new flooring, a new kitchen complete with new appliances, and new restroom make the log cabin, built in the early 1950s, look like a completely new build.
Camp Frances wasn’t much to look at, however, when Brenda Bly began renting it for family outings in 2012. She happened to come across it one day while walking the trails at Bennett Park, and noticed people gathered together, enjoying nature.
Despite its appearance, the setting, the people, and the small cabin located on the park’s south end called to her. Built in the early 50s, the log cabin had seen better days, and funding for its upkeep was lacking.
Things changed, however, just a few short years later. Still deeply invested in the Camp, Bly joined the Camp Frances board of directors in 2015 and was quickly voted president of the non-profit organization.
The real change, though, took place months later when Charlotte City Manager Gregg Guetschow issued a challenge to the community. In 2016 Guetschow pledged to match donations to Camp Frances, dollar-for-dollar, up to $4,000.
“Immediately we received a donation from a community member for $1,000,” Brenda said. “Then shortly after that we received close to $3,000 from Women Giving Together.”
Bly said she was hoping to help get new windows and shades as a board. What has happened since, she said, has “been a miracle.”
“This is the most generous community,” she said. “I had no idea.”
Camp Frances board member Martha Lawrence agrees.
“The community support for this has been tremendous,” Martha said.
Martha’s affinity for Camp Frances began as a young girl attending Blue Bird meetings.
“To me, it’s just the cutest little place,” Martha said.
It seems many community members have been taken by the Camp’s quaint charm as donations for the municipal non-profit continue to come in. The new kitchen was donated by Captain’s Cabinetry in Charlotte and installed with the help of the Charlotte Rotary Club. The Charlotte Kiwanis Club remodeled the bathroom. Sizable community donations have also come in, allowing the board to make sure all needed renovations could take place.
“I’d never been in a situation to realize what a truly generous community we have,” Brenda said.
Now, Brenda said the board can focus on sustaining the camp, adding improvements, and keeping it open for low-cost rentals.
“Our job as a board was to make sure we accomplished the projects that had to be done, but now we need to make sure people remember there is this beautiful place, in the middle of nature, you can rent for a reasonable price,” she said.
Camp Frances can be rented by community members, businesses or organizations for just $50 a day. Brenda said Camp Frances often hosts family reunions, graduation parties, weddings, or bridal and baby showers. Close to 1,000 community members attended a Charlotte Christmas, a free event held at Camp Frances this past holiday season, which was organized by Charlotte High School students and members of Can Do!
“It’s amazing how a little place like this in nature calls people in,” Brenda said.
You can learn more about Camp Frances by visiting campfrances.org.