ROCKINGHAM — CSX employee Kent Gillis, who said he loves the outdoors and hunting, is the founder of a very special family hunt club with a mission to make the world a better place by getting young people out into nature and having them take part in sponsoring a person with special needs each year.
”It’s the second year we’ve done it,” Gillis said. “Last year we helped Dan McInnis, who was a deputy in Richmond County for years. I don’t know exactly what his major problem was. He has no immune system, and had a whole bunch of surgeries. He’s still in bad shape.”
Friend Robbie Hill of Wadesboro said while McInnis was being treated in the hospital, Gillis and the men in his group put a new roof on the former deputy’s house.
“When he got home, there was that new roof,” Hill said. “A lot of the things that were needed were donated for that project. Stuff had come in from a lot of places, and whatever we didn’t have, someone went and got it. We got it done.”
Gillis, founder of the Gillis Family Hunt Club — a closed group on Facebook with more than 800 members — said the club hosts several kinds of contests beginning on the day deer season opens in South Carolina and running through January 2, the day the season closes in North Carolina.
“We have kids and contests that go all through deer hunting season,” Gillis said. “And after deer season we get them together to let them see how much they accomplished. We let the kids help sponsor the child or the person we sponsor that year.”
Some of the most popular contests, Gillis added, involve selfies. There are eight categories for the selfie competitions: best male and female under age 16, best male and female over age 16, best overall selfie, best family, most humorous, and the most important, Gillis said, is the selfless selfie.
“You have to help somebody in that one, take a selfie of you and the person you helped, and write a short essay telling what you did, and how you helped,” he said. “That one’s only for the kids.”
This year, the group is sponsoring 13-year-old Gaby Campbell.
“She’s got severe cerebral palsy, and we’ve already raised about $3,000. We’ve had a pile of money donated, and a bunch of stuff donated — (from) the Vuncannons in Ellerbe…people from all over — and every week we have auctions. Every dime is going to help Gaby.”
Another way the club plans to raise money this year involves a bidding war.
“This is big,” Gillis said. “We have a hunt that’s going to be televised on national television. Whoever wins will go on “704 Outdoors” on Hunt Channel. We’ll be there, too. The winner is whoever makes the biggest financial donation, and every dime goes to Gaby. They’ll shoot it this year, and it will be the next fall season when it airs, just like with other television shows.”
Gillis said another important aspect of the club is making sure young people are educated about the sport of hunting.
“We’ve got 43 kids in the hunting safety program this year,” he said. “We’ve had squirrel competitions this past year. Squirrel, deer, and turkey. Got 18 turkeys in two days. And at the end of the season, we all meet with Lee Berry at the Berry Patch. He does a lot to help us.”
Gillis pointed out that his wife, Kelli Gillis, does a lot behind to scenes to keep the club moving forward and organize activities.
“She definitely does every bit as much as I do,” he said.
Hill said that his nephew, Kris Hill, won one of the contests last year.
“I don’t remember which one, but I think it was a deer hunting contest,” he recalled. “He’s an amazing boy, he’s 14. He actually gave his winnings back, because it was a good cause. I think he won like $50 or something. I was just so proud of him for doing that.”
Teaching kids hunting safety is another thing Hill agrees with.
“We just try to help these youngins and give ‘em something to do,” he said. “We’d rather them be out hunting in the woods than shooting somebody on the streets. And we just try to help the community.”
Hill, a deer hunter, said he was introduced about a year-and-a-half ago to Gillis by his son.
“My son works bail bonds and he signs them in Richmond County, too,” Hill said. “I just kind of joined because it’s good for these kids and they get to contribute to a good cause. McInnis is a walking miracle to even be alive. It sounds corny, but you see so much destruction in this world today, so much dissent. I just felt like the man was trying to help all these people and help these kids and he is just a good, honest hard-working fella. He is just a super human being.”
To learn more about the hunt club or making a donation to help Gaby Campbell, send Kent Gillis a message on Facebook.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.