Who We Are

“Camp to me is being a kid, getting dirtier than you ever planned, making friends for whom ‘friends’ isn’t a good enough word; we’re talking ride or die folks, we’re talking soulmates, we’re talking Old And Married, you all have jobs but These Buddies are Still Your Buddies.”
— Khallori Cosmey, camper and counselor

“Clapping Hands is run by Louise Kessel with her family and an incredible network of artists, musicians, nature lovers, and educators. The farm has become an incredible community institution that supports children and families in a way that nothing else I’ve seen does.”
— Sandi Osterkatz, parent

a unique outdoor setting

“There is a heartbeat to this place! And a wonderful cast of characters!”
— Pam Fleischauer, parent

Clapping Hands Farm Camp is an arts and nature camp located ¾ of a mile down a gravel road near Pittsboro, North Carolina.  We are off the grid; with acres of woods and fields, a fairy forest, trails, a pond, hand-pumped well water, use-your-foot sinks, and solar power, we offer a unique outdoor setting. Shoes are optional, tree climbing is encouraged, and we spend the entire day outdoors.

“My kids have a certain fearlessness about nature, and I think that’s all because of Clapping Hands Farm. The kids are outside every day regardless of the weather, sun or rain. They run around barefoot, they climb trees.”
— Valine Zeigler, parent

our programs

“Clapping Hands Farm is a big part of why my children are as compassionate, creative, and confident as they are.”
— Cristie Croft, parent and volunteer

Clapping Hands Farm began its summer camp program in 2000. We began year-round programs with Fall-Winter-Spring workshops and classes in 2007. Currently, we run about seven camps per summer plus a spring break camp, as well as multiple days of programming during the school year.

Our programs, led by working artists, craftspeople and naturalists, are rich, vibrant, engaging experiences. Every camp has a specific age group and a  theme that it focuses on. Our teaching artists are passionate about what they do and want to ignite that passion in others!

There is big learning on a lot of different levels. You might learn to play the ukulele in a week. Or how to quilt. Or how to build a real shed that camp needs. Or how to tap dance. We might write and perform a musical in a week. We work with real tools and materials and do real things in a hands-on way.

But the learning at camp isn’t just about the topic or theme. We learn so much just being together.

Our camp days are a wonderful balance of so many different things:

  • individual freedom + responsibility to the whole
  • problem-solving + noticing what’s going well
  • excitement, enthusiasm, and intensity + room to breathe, relax, and go at your own pace
  • hard work + encouragement to take care of yourself
  • expecting the best from everyone + compassionate support when we are not at our best

What that looks like on the ground is:

  • Everyone does chores everyday. We all run camp together.
  • There are choices throughout the day about what you do; there is lots of getting to do what you want.
  • Everyone is part of a buddy group that checks in at the end of each day. People notice and care if you are having a bad day.
  • Everyone is expected to look out for one another’s safety, both physically and emotionally.
  • People are encouraged to bring their concerns to their counselors and teachers. We work things out when there’s a problem.
  • We spend time every day giving thanks and offering appreciations for anyone or anything that happened that day.
  • The staff thinks about every single camper every single day, asking “How are they doing?” and “What do they need?”

“The staff were willing and amazingly able to lovingly problem-solve in a way that assumes that each camper and each family is a precious asset.”
— Surabhi Shah, parent

our campers

We offer programs for children from ages 2 to 18, families, and adults. Our campers are from many cultural, religious, racial and economic backgrounds. Central to our camp culture is a practice of welcome and inclusion. We have a “no one turned away” policy and between 1/3 and 1/2 of our campers come on scholarship. We work with children who have behavioral challenges and disabilities or who are “at risk” or have experienced challenging life circumstances or trauma. Campers are our most precious resource and camp is stronger, better, and more fun because everyone is there.

camp magic and our camp community

“My love for camp is so big I can’t quite explain it!”
– Lenore Ramos, camper and counselor

A week of camp is a powerful thing. In fact, it defies logic that ONE week of camp can have such a big impact. We call it camp magic. One of our teen counselors once exclaimed, “You can learn anything in a week at Clapping Hands Farm!” Truth!

And lifelong friendships can be made in five days.

We like to hang onto our people! We are still in touch with MOST of the campers who came the very first year in 2000. Many of our original campers are STILL INVOLVED with camp—as counselors, as lead teachers (many former campers have become working artists in their own right), or as parents bringing children of their own to be campers.

So many of our counselors grew up in our camp community. They looked up to their counselors, and got SO MUCH out of the love and attention they provided. Now they want to give back and be that person for a younger camper; this is a powerful cycle for everyone involved. When people ask, “How do you find such wonderful counselors?” the answer is, “We raised them from pups!”

people of color

People of color come to camp, both campers and staff. Typically 1/3 or more of our campers and at least 1/2 of our staff. Having people of color present in significant numbers, especially as leaders, is critical to camp being a great experience for campers of color (staff too, actually).  For that reason, we make this a focused priority every week.

We enjoy creating community where people of many cultural backgrounds and perspectives can be themselves, be curious about other people, and then create, learn, argue, talk, listen, work, and play together.

love and safety

“You need to spend the day there. Spend the entire day there. What I notice is that everybody, no matter where you come from, no matter what you’re like, no matter what your behavior is, no matter how you may be feeling that day, everybody gets love. Everybody experiences love at this camp. That kind of stuff doesn’t just happen. It’s a focused priority. And that’s what I love about camp.”
— Teli Shabu, teaching artist and parent

A lot of attention goes into loving and attending to EACH person at camp. We want every camper to feel loved and connected. Turns out being loved and supported and welcomed with all our quirks tends to bring out the best in all of us. So many people talk about camp as a safe place and a place where they can be themselves. Camp isn’t perfect and we have not succeeded in creating this experience for absolutely everyone who has come down our long driveway. But we work hard at it and, more often than not, people feel comfortable to BE THEMSELVES, and inspired to be their BEST SELVES at camp.

“What I love about Clapping Hands Farm Camp is that it’s a place where you get to be you.”
– Aya Shabu, teaching artist and parent

The combination of including lots of different kinds of people and creating the safety where people can be themselves means that authentic relationships are possible here. Across a variety of divides. And that is a precious thing.

“It is restorative to watch as children across the spectrum of race, income, ability, and every other social marker I can think of, blossom in the loving space of this camp. Divisions, stress, and intolerance melt away during the 3/4-mile ride down the gravel driveway, and the effect on everyone involved is immediate and lasting.”
— Eloise Grathwohl

our secret goal


Not some campers. Not most campers. Every camper.

“Camp to me is safe spaces, learning about who you are, who you wish you were, and never feeling judged on your journey to being that. It’s a loving community in which to grow your talents, a place to support and be supported.” — Khallori Cosmey, camper and counselor