COLA Q+A with the women behind Camp Cole


Camp Cole under construction | Photo via @campcolesouthcarolina

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As we wrap up Women’s History Month, we wanted to share a Q+A we had with the women behind one of Columbia’s organizations — Camp Cole. As the team of local ladies gears up to welcome the first campers to the new facility (T-76 days away), we wanted to get to know them a little better.

For those who don’t know, Camp Cole was created by Kelsey Carter + Margaret Deans Grantz after Cole Sawyer passed away childhood cancer. Most camps and facilities are designed with able bodied individuals in mind so to meet the need the idea began to create a place that was built for children (or adults) like Cole.

This summer, Camp Cole will offer programs and services for children and other members of the community, including children experiencing homelessness, children experiencing a wide range of life challenges, and potentially a camp for children with cancer.

“This fall we are working with a potential partner to create a wellness retreat for women as well as another organization for a Survivor Summit for women who have experience sexual assault or domestic violence.” - Margaret Deans Grantz

Until Camp Cole opens, let’s get to know the team behind the one-of-a-kind space.


Margaret Deans Grantz and Kelsey Carter | Photo via @campcolesouthcarolina

Name, title, what are 3-5 things you want people to know about you?

Kelsey Carter, Co-Founder & Executive Director

  • I am addicted to chocolate, I must have a little piece every day!
  • My passion is working with children.
  • My hobbies include biking, hiking, and shopping.
  • I love country music and live music.

Margaret Deans Grantz, Co-Founder & Director of Marketing and Development

  • I am a wife, a mom to 2 precious girls, daughter, and sister to 5 siblings.
  • I could live off Mexican Food for the rest of my life.
  • I was a cheerleader for 2 years at Wofford College and then when I moved back to Columbia coached cheerleading at Hammond School from 2013-2020.
  • I have travelled to 6/7 continents. Just need to plan a trip to Antarctica.
  • Pawley’s Island is my favorite vacation spot.

Cassidy Green, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

  • I’m a class of 2020 graduate of the University of South Carolina —go gamecocks! My grandparents met at USC, then my mom, and all three of her sisters met their husbands at Carolina, too.
  • I have a fraternal twin sister and an older brother.
  • I love journaling each night. I think it’s a great time to reflect on what I accomplished throughout the day and what I want to work on in the future.
  • In my free time, I love playing tennis, reading, and playing the guitar.

If you’re originally from Columbia, why have you stayed here? If you’re not, what brought you here?

Kelsey Carter — After graduating from the University of South Carolina, I moved to Dallas, TX to pursue a teaching career in low-income communities. After 2 years of teaching, I relocated back to Columbia to be with my family. I have always loved calling Columbia home — I grew up attending Gamecock games and have always had a healthy appetite for boiled peanuts!

Margaret Deans Grantz — Fifth generation Columbia woman and have never thought about leaving. It has always felt like home.

Cassidy Green — I was born and raised in Columbia, then attended the University of South Carolina. Once I graduated, I looked for jobs in Columbia because it’s close to my family and I love the city.

What’s an improvement you’d like to see in Columbia?

Kelsey Carter — I’d love to see a greater emphasis on accessibility of public places and transportation.

Margaret Deans Grantz — We need more affordable daycare options for working moms!

Cassidy Green — I would love to see more people supporting the awesome small businesses we have here in Columbia. As the daughter of a small business owner, I always love to shop + support local organizations when I can.

What local dish do you crave + rave about?

Kelsey Carter — Grouchos — every sandwich on the menu is delicious

Margaret Deans Grantz — You can find my husband and I at Casa Linda at least 2x a week but also huge fan of everything at il Giorgione.

Cassidy Green — I love the Devine Street Cinnamon Roll Deli! My go-to is a build-your-own breakfast sandwich, which comes with a cinnamon roll. It’s so affordable, the food is delicious, and the staff is really friendly.

What do you hope Columbia is like in 10 years? 20 years?

Kelsey Carter — I hope that Columbia keeps its vibrancy, neighborly feel, and energetic atmosphere. May our Columbian friendly smiles always create a community of courageous laughter.

Margaret Deans Grantz — I hope that our roads are better first of all. I hope that Columbia is a place where people can feel safe, parents can know their children can get a good education, our districts, Five Points, Vista, Main Street, Trenholm Plaza (and more), are thriving, and my family is all still here!

Cassidy Green — I hope Columbia is still actively growing! I hope small businesses are thriving, people feel welcome, safe, and included, and the gamecocks are having winning seasons.

What’s your favorite album? (Book? Movie?)

Kelsey Carter — Music: Jess Glynne, Book: Wonder by RJ Palacio, Movie: Step Brothers

Margaret Deans Grantz — Music: Avett Brothers, Book: The Giving Tree and A Good Night for Mr. Coleman

Cassidy Green — Movie: Pride and Prejudice (2005), Book: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Album: Seasons Change by Scotty McCreery

How did your parents or parental figures influence you?

Kelsey Carter — My parents have always taught me to show others kindness, empathy, and compassion. Both my mother and my father were deeply rooted in giving back to our community, and they instilled a deep sense of service from a young age. We often had friends over for dinner from diverse walks of life, you quickly became family in our home. Having lost a child to cancer at the age of 11, my parents addressed the effects of grief and heartbreak daily. For me, their constant acknowledgement that grief is hard, gruesome, and difficult, but ultimately, from grief there can also be spring great blessings made a large impact in the way I choose to live my life.

Margaret Deans Grantz — My parents have taught me so much. My dad and mom are 100% my role models and heroes. My dad has taught me the art of giving back and that “Nothing is fair in life but a ground ball through first and third”. My dad is the most selfless person I know. He is always quietly giving to others whether it is supporting a nonprofit or helping someone in need. My mom has taught me, among so many other things, how a mother’s love is one of the strongest things in this world. My mom has six children who are all different. She has never given up on any of us, supported us through highs and lows, and has sacrificed everything to give us the world. The influence they have had on me has shaped me into the person I am today.

Cassidy Green —I’ve learned so much from my parents and I’m still being influenced by them today. My dad has taught me to never stop learning. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t seek more information about the things he’s passionate about. Whether it’s listening to a podcast, reading, or attending classes, he’s constantly learning, and I try to do the same. My mom has taught me how to treat all people with kindness. My mom has never met a stranger. My childhood was full of her making conversation with people at the grocery store, at church, or anywhere else. She makes everyone feel at-ease, whether she’s known them for a lifetime or five minutes, and I try to be as inclusive and intentional as she is.

Tell us about an obstacle you’ve had in life and how you overcame it.

Kelsey Carter — I have overcome a great deal of hardships and heartbreak in my life. I have lost two of the most important people in my life before the age of 25, my brother to cancer and my mother to a neurological stroke. When speaking with friends, my heart still skips a beat when a conservation gets brought up about Mother’s Day or simply calling your mom after a long day at work. I have learned that obstacles in life do not define you, you are so much greater than your current circumstances. The only person who has the power to change your life, your outlook, your story is you.

Margaret Deans Grantz — I really wanted to be a Child Life Specialist after college but I got a Business Economics degree in college. I went to apply for internships to become a CLS and learned that things had changed and I needed a degree in something more related to child life. I was pretty bummed as becoming a Child Life Specialist was something I really decided I wanted to do. I decided to take a step back and work in the nonprofit sector. It is crazy how everything works out just how it is supposed to. Camp Cole is exactly where I should be and feel so blessed that my dream job of being a Child Life Specialist did not work out and give back to the community through Camp Cole.

Cassidy Green — I graduated in May of 2020, which is right after COVID began. As you can imagine, it was a really difficult time to look for jobs. I began to get discouraged, but after speaking with some mentors, I decided to make the most of my free time by volunteering with a local organization. This is how I got connected with Camp Cole! I started as a volunteer, then turned into an intern. After interning for 6 months, I got my job as the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Camp Cole. COVID certainly affected the job market, but because I decided to utilize my time wisely by volunteering, I ended up with a job with an incredible organization!

What life advice or epiphany would you share with others that you’re thankful you learned?

Kelsey Carter — Always be kind, you do not know the battles someone is facing.

Margaret Deans Grantz — An “epiphany” I had one day when in the grocery store, I was just in one of those moods where I didn’t really want to stop and talk to anyone but saw someone I knew on an aisle. I could have easily avoided the “hello” but I realized and thought to myself: how hard is it to just stop and smile and say hello to someone. You never know who might need a smile or a hello that day.

Cassidy Green — I’ve learned that it costs nothing to be kind. There has never been a time in my life when I have regretted making someone feel special or loved. There will always be times when we fall short, but if we always strive to do our best to be kind, the world will be a better place.

What three people (living or dead) would you invite to an imaginary dinner party?

Kelsey Carter — Patricia Polacco, Marilyn Monroe, and Kid President.

Margaret Deans Grantz — Taylor Swift, my best friend, Elizabeth, who died when I was in second grade, and my Dad.

Cassidy Green — Reese Witherspoon, Dolly Parton, and Lee Wyndham, my grandmother. They are all strong southern women, so together, they’d be a force to be reckoned with.

Name 3-5 other local leaders/influencers/movers + shakers you’re watching.

Kelsey Carter — Ashley Thomas, Founder of the The Hive Community Circle. Nonprofit dedicated to serving women experiencing or have experienced partner domestic violence. The statistics for our state are terrible regarding domestic violence, Ashley is committed to educating teens on healthy relationships, as well as providing intentional services to deserving women.

Leadership Columbia Class of 2021— Leadership Columbia was an incredible experience where I learned a great deal about the Midlands community. Especially with COVID this year, the class has had to be resilient and preserve in a difficult environment. I appreciate their focus and project this year at Midlands Fatherhood Coalition.

Margaret Deans Grantz — I am always watching Homeless No More and how they are impacting the community with the work they do with homeless families. The work they do is so important. I am always watching A’ja Wilson and following her. I think Columbia is pretty lucky to have someone like her for our young girls to look up too. I love that she makes time to come back and make a difference in the community that raised her. Lastly, I am always watching business leaders like Joe Taylor who work hard to bring businesses to Columbia and make it a place where people want to live.

Cassidy Green — Bhavna Vasudeva has been a family friend of ours for years. She is so active in our community, always supporting nonprofits that mean a lot to her. I admire her drive and passion for helping others. Dawn Staley is someone who I and so many others look up to. Her commitment to equality, her players, and the community is incredibly inspiring to me, so she is someone who I am definitely watching. Amanda Harter and Neal Coats are Camp’s Cole’s Project Manager and Superintendent with Hood Construction. They have done such a wonderful job making sure that Camp Cole is exactly what we dreamed it would be. After Camp Cole is completed, I know they will continue building many more impressive buildings in the Columbia area. I’m excited to see what comes next for them!

What women do you look up to or inspire you?

Kelsey Carter — Sharon Bryant, Christy Davis, Amanda Harter, Cassy Shea, and Elizabeth Nkuo Johnson are all women who inspire me. They dedicate themselves to serving our community, removing barriers in the workforce, and show up everyday with poise and class.

Margaret Deans Grantz — Right now I think MacKenzie Scott is pretty inspiring. She is Jeff Bezos ex wife who gifted $4.2 Billion of her own worth to non profit organizations across the country. But also, my best friend’s grandmother, Bebe, is someone I really look up to and admire. She lives in Greenville, SC and is one of the most giving women I have ever met. I hope I can raise my children to be as kind as she raised her children, to be able to give back and serve my community in the way she has, and have the heart of Jesus that she has.

Cassidy Green — I have been immensely blessed by the strong, intelligent, generous, and grace-filled women in my family. From my youngest relative to my oldest, I have learned so much about how to respect myself and others. I also look up to Kelsey Carter and Margaret Deans Grantz. I’m beyond thankful that I get the chance to work alongside them. They are determined to create an environment in which every single person will feel included, special, and worthy, and I am lucky I get to witness their hard work every day.

What do you want to tell future generations of local women?

Kelsey Carter — You are worthy of the success you accumulate. You are valuable and you are capable of great things. Do not let anyone dim your light.

Margaret Deans Grantz — That you can do anything as long as you believe in something bigger than yourself. A lot of people did not think two girls in their 20s could raise $10 million dollars, build a camp, and create something that has never been done in Columbia before but we have raised $13 million dollars, built a state of the art camp, and have created programs that are already impacting lives and our doors haven’t even opened yet.

Cassidy Green — I want to tell future local women about the importance of being kind to yourself. I really like the expression, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” It’s much easier to take care of others once you’ve taken care of yourself first. It’s so important that we take some time each day to reflect on what we love about ourselves!

What’s next for Camp Cole?

Margaret Deans Grantz — To change the lives of people through the camping experience. We hope to create programs where there are gaps in our community for children and adults who deserve the chance to connect with people going through similar experiences.

Cassidy Green — Our next big step is welcoming campers this summer! We are so excited to see children, teens, and adults make memories at this place that so many people have dreamed about for such a long time. I’m just blessed that I get to be a witness to the great things that will happen at Camp Cole!

Who should we interview next?

Kelsey Carter — Ashley Thomas, we need to be talking more about women of diverse backgrounds in leadership positions.

Cassidy Green — You should interview Darci Strickland, a journalist with WLTX. My senior year of college, she came and spoke during one of my journalism classes. She had so many interesting stories about her time as a journalist!