Camp Hapitok has a legacy of learning

Since Camp Hapitok’s beginning in 1970, Gary and Marlene Owens, their children and grandchildren have been passionately involved.

Marlene has consistently served on the board for Friends of Hapitok. Her daughter, Susan (Owens) Lauman, was once a teen volunteer. And Marlene’s granddaughter, Dari (daughter of David and Dawn Owens), is a second-year teen representative on the Friends board and a fifth-year teen volunteer. 

Sponsored by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, the four-week summer camp provides an intensive educational program to elementary-age children with communication disabilities. In 2004, Camp Hapitok was accredited by the American Camp Association, meeting more than 140 standards. 

Teenagers compete to volunteer four weeks of their summer time to serve as therapy individual goal reinforcers (TIGRs).

David Owens, owner of the family business, Village Center Dry Cleaners of Morro Bay, said: “Hapitok usually has over 100 kids apply to be TIGRs. Sixty-five are invited back for the training weekend. Only 28 are invited to become TIGRs. Our family donates — does — the barbecue for the training weekend every year.”

Alison “Mission” Fesler, Camp Hapitok’s program director, is a former TIGR. She’s a full-time employee of IBM; however, her avocation is coordinating Camp Hapitok. She matches TIGRs to their campers, who spend all but nap and sleep time together working on speech and language goals. The intensive training combines tasks and bountiful praise while enjoying a hike, playing games, producing a camp craft or going on a field trip. 

Since both Gary and David Owens are past presidents of the Morro Bay Rotary Club, several TIGRs were invited to speak to club members about their camp experience. Marlene Owens has also garnered continuous major support from Quota International of Morro Bay for Camp Hapitok. She is a past district governor and president of Quota Club. 

During the recent Morro Bay Rotary Club meeting, third-year TIGR William “Sweater” Witt, who plans to study forestry at Cal Poly, said he volunteered at Camp Hapitok because he wanted to spend his summers “doing something meaningful.”

Fifth-year TIGR Matthew “Stone” Neumann, who plans to study biology at Cal Poly for a medical career, said he’s learned he loves working with kids and “to value personal bonds with people.”  

Jeff “Blue” Neumann said: “I thought I was following the family tradition, but

I quickly learned that things don’t matter much. Helping a child has so much more value.” Jeff recently completed sign language classes at Cuesta College to help profoundly deaf campers.

And Dari “SuperNova” Owens said: “I love camp deep in my soul. I will study communication disorders at the University of Redlands. I’ve made a difference in one person’s life each year, and they in turn have led me to my career path.” 

For more information, go to www.camphapitok.org.