By Luke Hodges
Deans Fawcett is on a mission, and she isn’t the least bit intimidated by the enormity of the charitable undertaking before her. “I really haven’t felt daunted,” the Columbia native says of fundraising for Camp Cole, the future Midlands retreat center for people dealing with serious health conditions that she has co-founded with her husband Peter, their children, and the Sawyer family. “It’s a labor of love, and a gift to Columbia to last forever, I hope.”
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The forty-acre camp is named for the late Cole Sawyer, who lost his battle with cancer in 2005 at the age of eleven. Cole’s mother, Stacy (Deans and Stacy were sorority sisters at University of South Carolina and rekindled their bond while volunteering at
a retreat for children with pediatric cancer), always dreamed of starting an overnight camp in the Midlands for people with major health issues like her son, but her own untimely passing in 2016 prevented her from realizing this project. Her staggering loss galvanized the Fawcetts into taking action, and they are now committed to makingStacy’s dream a reality. “Her death was our catalyst, and it’s been our incentive to keep going,” Deans says. “We’re going to build this camp, and then other organizations that need the space can come use it.”
Camp Cole will be the only overnight retreat facility of its kind in the Columbia area, and–Deans is quick to point out–
the only facility in the state that will sleep over two-hundred people with full heating and air conditioning, a feature that will allow them to operate year round. What’s more, Camp Cole will be designed in accordance with the rigorous standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the American Camp Association, so that the space will be accessible to all who visit. “We’ve talked to a lot of different organizations serving many different populations,” Deans says. “Groups supporting people with Down’s syndrome, people with autism, people with muscular dystrophy. We wanted their suggestions on what they would need, and what would impress them to come.”
Without the financial guidance of the Community Foundation to rely on, Deans says starting Camp Cole would have been a much more difficult process for her family. “It’s been a great project, but a hard learning experience,” she says. “The Community Foundation has helped us so much with the money-related questions we’ve had, with handling the 501(c)(3)concerns and also the tax side of things. We needed their expertise, and they’ve helped us immensely.” With powerful community partners like Palmetto Health Richland and the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina signing on to support the project, Camp Cole is poised to open its doors in 2020. But all of this good news doesn’t mean Deans is slowing down on the fundraising front. “We’re just getting started,” she says. “All of us know that this will be something lasting we can give the community.” And something remarkable, she adds, to honor the memories of Cole and Stacy.