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Camp Hapitok will hold summer session, with education office's help

Camper Cheerful Monkey — her camp name — has a question at Camp Hapitok in 2010.
Camper Cheerful Monkey — her camp name — has a question at Camp Hapitok in 2010. The Tribune

Camp Hapitok will offer its summer session after all, camp organizers say, thanks to a deal with the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education that waives the remainder of the camp’s 2014 bill and allows it to use the county’s outdoor educational facilities in San Luis Obispo this year essentially free of charge.

“We were like, ‘Holy smokes.’ This is a big leap of faith,” Friends of Camp Hapitok president Marie Larsen said of the announcement. “We’re thrilled.”

Friends of Camp Hapitok announced March 2 that for the first time in its 44-year history, it would not be holding its summer session for kids with speech and communication disorders, because of a problem with its partnership with the education office.

Friends of Camp Hapitok is a 501c organization that partners with the county education office to put on the four-week camp. The group pays about $30,000 to rent the Rancho El Chorro Outdoor Educational Facilities at 3360 Education Drive in San Luis Obispo and for administrative services from the education office. In return, the office recruits and employs all staff and provides insurance coverage for the camp.

SLO County Superintendent James Brescia said the education office would not be able to continue its partnership because of a change in “current legal proceedings for 2015” that made it inadvisable for the camp to be run by Friends of Camp Hapitok while the group’s workers were employed by the county.

Brescia said the education office was committed to helping the camp program continue, however, and on March 5 he announced that they would waive the camp’s outstanding 2014 bill and rent the Rancho El Chorro facilities to Friends of Camp Hapitok for $1 — the education office is required to charge for use of the facilities — so that the group could put on this year’s summer session while it considered its options for the future.

“It’s a fabulous program,” Brescia said. “Our office is dedicated to helping the camp continue in any way we can — hopefully for another 44 years.”

The new deal represents between $35,000 and $40,000 in savings for Friends of Camp Hapitok, Larsen said.

The camp isn’t out of the woods yet: Though they will be able to hold this summer’s session, the education office’s decision to revoke its partnership still stands.

Larsen said she and camp organizers are looking into how the camp will be run in the future. She said they do not know if they would be able to find another nonprofit group to partner with, or if they will need to dissolve into the education office.

According to Larsen, the group also still needs to raise at least $55,000 to support this year’s session and have some seed money to go toward next year’s camp.

To raise this, Friends of Camp Hapitok started a 60-day crowd-funding campaign through IndieGoGo. As of Tuesday at 6 p.m., the Camp has raised $3,505.

“The bottom line is that if the community truly does support Camp Hapitok, then we need a stable funding base,” Larsen said. “We hope all of those people will help support us now.”

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