Camp Hapitok cancels summer session after funding pulled

Three kids known by their camp names, from left, Dolphin, Mellow Rabbit and Brave Cat, compete to answer a question during an activity at Camp Hapitok in 2010.
Three kids known by their camp names, from left, Dolphin, Mellow Rabbit and Brave Cat, compete to answer a question during an activity at Camp Hapitok in 2010. The Tribune

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Camp Hapitok was provided use of San Luis Obispo County Education Office facilities free of charge. Friends of Hapitok board member Marlene Owens said the nonprofit pays $30,000 a year to use the facilities, as well as paying for all administrative services from the education office.

After more than four decades of providing a four-week summer camp to county kids with speech and communication disorders, Camp Hapitok organizers announced this week they will not hold a summer session this year.

The decision to cancel this year’s session — a first in the program’s 44-year history — came after San Luis Obispo County Office of Education Superintendent James Brescia told program organizers in January that the office would not be able to continue its partnership with the camp.

The county education office has provided administrative services and insurance coverage for the camp since it opened in 1970, as well as providing the Rancho El Chorro Outdoor Educational facilities in San Luis Obispo for the camp’s use free of charge.

Marie Larsen, president of Friends of Camp Hapitok, said she was surprised by Brescia’s announcement in January.

“We’ve done this for 44 years,” she said. “Our question is why this is happening now.”

Brescia — who was sworn in as superintendent on Jan. 5, replacing retired superintendent Julian Crocker — said that in the process of reviewing all contracts with the education office, he asked the office’s legal counsel to review the Hapitok program in advance of its annual memorandum of agreement renewal.

Brescia said he was advised that the education office could not continue to act as the “employer” for the camp, while Friends of Camp Hapitok acted as the “operator” — meaning as long as the office was funding and providing resources for the camp such as administrative services and a site, it needed to be run by the county office and not by Friends of Camp Hapitok.

He said the office has offered to work with the Friends of Camp Hapitok to make the program an official county education program managed by the office. The other alternative would be for the Friends group to become a nonprofit or to partner with another entity to act as an independent employer and rent the El Chorro Rancho facilities.

“We’re very supportive of this program,” Brescia said. “It’s a fantastic program.”

Larsen said Friends of Camp Hapitok did not have enough time to make the changes in time hold a session this summer, however. She said the group did approach several nonprofits throughout the county to see if they would be willing to partner with Camp Hapitok so that a summer session could take place this year, but was met with refusals.

“The timing for this was not ideal,” Larsen said, noting that organizing the camp each year is a drawn-out process. “This is a slow-moving train. We did not have enough time to get this solved before the summer session.”

Though a session will not happen this year, Larsen said she is optimistic that one will take place next summer. She said the group is looking into becoming a private entity or non-profit, as well as exploring whether it wants to dissolve into SLOCOE.

Larsen said the camp would need to raise approximately $80,000 to form a human resources department and cover costs if it chose to become a private entity.

A group of former camp-goers and their families are expected to speak at the Board of Education meeting Thursday at 1 p.m. For more information, visit their “Save Camp Hapitok!” Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/925563497462880/.