Stock-car charity – Supported by Paul Newman

By Todd Cohen

RANDLEMAN, N.C. — A free camp to revive the spirit and self-esteem of seriously ill children in the Carolinas and Virginia is taking shape in Randolph County, thanks to philanthropy fueled by stock-car racing and salad dressing.

Set to open in summer 2004, Victory Junction Gang Camp joins the network of Hole in The Wall Gang camps inspired by actor Paul Newman.

With proceeds from Newman’s Own, the dressing and spaghetti-sauce firm he founded to benefit charity, Newman has pledged $500,000 to the new camp’s startup.

NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and his wife, Pattie, founded the camp in memory of their son, Adam Petty, who was killed in a NASCAR race in May 2000 at age 19.

Driving legend Richard Petty and his wife, Lynda, Kyle’s parents, donated 65 acres for the camp – plus an easement for another 30 — from their 500-acre farm in Level Cross near Randleman, about 15 minutes south of Greensboro.

Racing will be the theme of the camp, which will handle 125 youngsters ages seven to 15 for each of eight sessions lasting one week each during the summer.

A needs-analysis by UNC-Chapel Hill found 236,565 seriously ill children living within five hours of the camp.

Hospitals in the Carolinas and Virginia will refer children to the camp, which also will be open weekends year-round for parents and siblings of seriously ill children.

“Sometimes the healthy child is often neglected because the family is overwhelmed financially and emotionally with the needs of the sick child,” says Brian Collier, the camp’s executive director and former executive director of New York-based Phoenix House, the largest treatment-and-education nonprofit for substance abuse in the U.S.

The camp, which initially will handle 3,500 children and family members a year, has raised $4.5 million in cash and pledges during the quiet phase of a $24 million capital campaign.

The campaign targets the racing community for 40 percent of its goal, and foundations, corporations and individuals outside racing for the rest. It is headed by Leo Hindery, founder and CEO of the YES Network, a 24-hour sports network with rights to broadcast games for the New York Yankees, New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils.

Collier expects to launch a drive in 2009 to build an endowment to support one-fourth of annual operating costs of $2.5 million to $3 million. The current campaign includes $5 million for endowment.

The camp will employ five paid medical staff and 60 paid summer counselors, mainly college students, plus 30 medical and other volunteers. Its 36 buildings will include a medical center, 16 camper cabins, dining hall and recreational facilities.

The camp is a member of the Association of HITWG Camps, which includes camps in Connecticut, Florida, New York, Ireland and France, plus one planned in California and another for Jewish and Arab children in Israel.

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