ROCKINGHAM — The Gillis Family Hunt Club, a popular regional Facebook page with more than 900 members, began as a selfie showcase among friends, but quickly snowballed into a tight-knit community of people who enjoy helping others.
Last weekend, the club hosted a camera crew and cast members of the Hunt Channel’s “704 Outdoors” for an auctioned hunt to benefit an area teen battling a serious disease.
“It started out as just buddies texting funny selfies at each other, then as time went by, by year one, we decided to have a competition,” said club founder Kent Gillis. “There were about 10 of us, and we’d take the pictures and show ‘em to our wives and families and it blew up.”
The following year, some of the kids wanted to get in on the fun, Gillis said.
“We cleaned (our selfies) up a little, of course, ‘cause we were all a bunch of guys,” he added. “So we started letting the kids do the selfies. Then, it turned into having categories and giving prizes. We went from doing the categories to having hunting safety courses for the kids. Later, we had the thing for Dan McInnis.”
McInnis is a retired Richmond County sheriff’s deputy who has survived several bouts of serious illness. Gillis and the club put a new roof on McInnis’ house as a surprise during a hospital stay.
Gillis’ wife Kelli said the well-being of children was a driving force in the growth of the club.
“It really all started with us trying to get kids off the street, and into the woods,” she explained. “But when Dan got sick and we started helping him and things, it got the kids into helping other people, too.”
Gillis said the group has raised $7,000 for Gaby Campbell — a teen with severe cerebral palsy — since July.
“We started the Gaby thing, and one of my buddies, Robbie Allen, got tied in with “704 Outdoors.” So 704 donated a hunt to be auctioned off, and it sold for $1,800.”
He added that many of the items used as prizes in the club’s competitive activities are things people give to them.
“Robbie Hill (another friend, from Wadesboro) has been super awesome donating things,” Gillis said. “He actually is the one who won that hunt. The hunt was filmed and they’ll do the producing and cut it down and put it in a television show, probably airing next fall.”
John Paul MacPherson of “704 Outdoors” donated the hunt and everything that came with it.
“Meals for two days, all the time and effort,” Gillis said. “And he came and hunted with us two days. After the hunt Saturday we had Gaby’s family and him and Robbie Hill here there for the party. They had the camera crew. They brought chili here for that.”
While this auctioned hunt took place on property “704 Outdoors” owns in Richmond County, Gillis said his family hunt club’s Facebook page members come from (and hunt in) Scotland, Anson and Montgomery counties as well.
“It’s just been a cool thing that’s grown,” he said. “The main thing is it gets the kids out of video games and into the woods. People have donated cash prizes, guns, all kinds of things we’ve used for this.”
As for Gaby, Gillis said she doesn’t get out much, but insisted on being at the party last weekend.
“She’s doing real good, but she has bouts with (an infection) real bad,” he explained. “She’s got a weakened immune system from the cerebral palsy.”
Aside from sponsoring someone in need each year, the Gillis Family Hunt Club teaches children hunting safety and holds several contests, allowing them to hunt competitively and win prizes — in addition to the prizes they can win in the selfie contests.
“It’s a good thing, something real good for keeping kids out of trouble,” Gillis said. “Anyone can join us. They can just go to the Facebook page, send me a friend request and tell me they want to join and I’ll add them. Or somebody else will add them. It’s a good group of people.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.