Published Sunday, June 19, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Updated Sunday, May 27, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun Summer Camp Fund
On Memorial Day weekend, many families turn their attention to summer vacation and visions of the Great Outdoors, conjuring scenes of Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Sierra Nevada. It seems the quintessential American family experience — especially among those of us living in the desert — to spend time in the shade of towering pines and firs, enjoying the cool mountain air, the children chasing chipmunks and getting their hands on their first fishing pole.
Sadly, the likelihood of experiencing the great outdoors remains out of reach for many local children whose families continue to be victims of the languishing economy.
Instead, they face yet another hot, urban summer, unable to build the kinds of memories that last a lifetime.
This is where my friend Ruby Epps comes in.
Over the years, Ruby has called the parents of thousands of children, informing them that their children had been selected to attend summer camp at little or no cost to the family. Her reward: the sounds of children squealing with excitement.
Ruby is the operations manager for the Las Vegas Sun Summer Camp Fund, which since 1970 has raised enough money to send about 40,000 children ages 8 to 14 to camps in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and California. Every dollar raised goes directly to camp scholarships; the administrative costs of running the program are absorbed entirely by the Sun. Simply put: 100 percent of the money donated goes directly toward sending needy children to camp.
But there’s a depressing side of Ruby’s work — the heartbreak that there are more children deserving of a summer camp experience than there is money to pay for it. With enough donations, as many as 1,400 children can be sent to summer camp every year, representing the number of camping slots available.
This year, though, only about 700 children will get to go to summer camp, partly because of the decline in charitable giving by companies hard hit by the economy. We hope to raise more money this summer so even more children can have the experience of a lifetime. After camp, children are asked to complete the sentence, “The best thing about camp was ...” Here is a sampling of responses:
After camp, children are asked to complete the sentence, “The best thing about camp was ...”
Here is a sampling of responses:
“Everything! I really loved horseback riding and making new friends.” — Melissa
“The dances because I got to dance with my friend.” — Taylor
“Team challenge, then horseback riding and x-club.” — Trinity
“Everything, because we got to be around friends.” — Nico
Todd Morse is an insurance agent today, but won’t ever forget the memories he collected in 1988 when he attended summer camp as a sixth-grader. His younger brother was there, too.
“Some of the kids had never gone outside a three-mile radius of where they lived and where they went to school,” Todd says. “That was their entire world. Then, to get on a bus and travel into the mountains of Southern California, and to see squirrels and deer — it was an experience they had never had.”
But the week in the mountains went far beyond an appreciation of nature.
“Staying up late at night around a campfire, telling stories, learning about one another, that was awesome. Kids came out of their shells.
“I made friends with a kid up there who lived in a different neighborhood than where we lived,” Todd says. “We hung out together, and we both complained that there was no sugar or candy. So when he went home and I was still up there, he sent me a package of candy. We stayed friends up until college.”
“The time a girl let me borrow her stuffed animal to make me feel better.” — Megan
“The meals. They were all delicious.” — Amber
“The pool and the rock climbing and the canoeing.” — Angelina
“Being around friends and doing things I have never done before. It was so much fun!” — Ariel
“Doing the skits.” — Brenden
“Canoeing. It was so much fun! Another thing was the food. It kind of tasted like my mom’s cooking!” — Brittnie
“My counselor. He rocked the party. That was my favorite.” — Ethan
“Making new friends and having fun and eating and sleeping. I loved it!” — Aubre
Children are sent to camps operated by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas, Boys & Girls Clubs of Henderson, Salvation Army, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts, YMCA, Potosi Pines Camp and Camp to Belong, operated by Child Focus, a nonprofit organization that works to bring together siblings who are separated in foster-care programs.
In Clark County, siblings who are separated when taken from their homes and placed in a foster home are supposed to spend at least 26 hours a year together, said Jeff Grandy, a facilitator at Child Focus. Most of those visits are in a social worker’s office. At its summer camp — with swimming, rock climbing, hiking and movies — the children spend 120 hours together, Jeff says.
“Their behavior changes at camp,” he said. “They know they are in a safe spot, with a brother or sister going through the same experience with them. And they learn things about themselves — simple things that can make such a difference, like their favorite colors. ‘Yours is blue? So’s mine!’ If we’re walking down a trail, they can walk ahead of the group to be together, or to tell secrets.”
Siblings at Camp to Belong are given a disposable camera; at week’s end, they are given the pictures for a scrapbook of their week together in the mountains, and it becomes precious to them.
“A couple of weeks ago I visited a girl who is in a treatment center, and the only things in her room were her scrapbook from summer camp in 2009 and the pillow that her brother made for her at camp,” Jeff said.
“When we did the Ugliest Man Alive and when I made new friends.” — Mikayla
“Riding all the horses! I loved it so much. I rode Mudpie all week.” — Madisyn
“Archery, dinner, lunch and breakfast.” — Max
“I got to shoot arrows out of bows.” — Brandon
“Meeting new people.” — Tahjy
There are so many valuable programs in the Las Vegas Valley that deserve the community’s support, and there’s no way for companies, foundations, estates and individuals to support them all. We all know that. Over the years, donors are no longer able to contribute, or they shift their giving to another organization.
Many donors, corporations and charities have supported summer camperships over the years. There are too many to mention here, but they include Speedway Children’s Charities, Lincy Foundation, Harrah’s Foundation, Cox Communications, Andre Agassi Foundation, Lillian K. Walker Estate, Southern Wine & Spirits, CAT Cashman Equipment Co., the many private family foundations and small-business owners, and civic groups such as Desert H.O.P.E., Kiwanis Club of Green Valley, Benevolent Patriotic Order of Does, My Very Own Dreams Inc., Las Vegas Elks Lodge and American Legion posts.
Indeed, the Sun Summer Camp Fund has grown incredibly since it was launched in 1970 by Charlotte Hill and Hank Greenspun, who founded the Sun in 1950.
Charlotte had become interested in camping because of her involvement in the Frontier Girl Scout Council and American Camping Association.
In 1967, Charlotte was a director of the regional Economic Opportunity Board, which used government money to launch a camping program for underprivileged children. Three years later, the agency was told it couldn’t use its money for such activities, and Charlotte went on a hunt for a new sponsor.
She approached Hank. “He loved the idea,” Charlotte said. “He had gone to camp as a youngster in New York.” Charlotte remains active on our board to this day, and we all are so thankful for her vision.
“Team Challenge and working as a team.” — Jack
“Making friends. It makes me feel like a family.” — Rob
“My cabin.” — Tyree
“The staff and all the new friends I made!” — Christina
“All the new friends and being a community.” — Julianna
For years the Sun Summer Camp Fund has sent children to Pathfinder Ranch, a camp in the mountains above Palm Springs, Calif., that serves as the camp for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Henderson (which has facilities throughout our valley).
“When the kids come back, their eyes light up when they talk about canoeing on the lake or learning how to shoot a bow and arrow or ride a horse,” said Ken Rubeli, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Henderson. “You can tell by the shine in their eyes that they’re talking of things they’ve experienced for the first time.”
Last year, the Sun Summer Camp Fund received enough donations to send 585 children to camp at a cost of $215,000. The average cost per child was about $367.
This year we would like to send 1,400 children to camp, and if you are able to help, we — and all the kids — would be grateful. Of course, no one is required to contribute and no one should feel obligated. But this is a wonderful opportunity to change the life of a child and help create memories that will bring smiles for years. These children need all of the positive experiences we can provide.
Donations can be made online at suncampfund.com, by calling 259-4150, or by sending a check to: Las Vegas Sun Summer Camp Fund, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074.
Brian Cram is the director of the Las Vegas Sun Summer Camp Fund.