Preparations are underway for this year's Camp Hapitok summer session, but the embattled program is still struggling to figure out how it will fund future sessions without a long-term financial backer.
“The response from the community has just been wonderful,” camp director Alison Fesler said Monday. “But right now we need to translate that support we are hearing from people into dollars.”
In March, nonprofit organization Friends of Hapitok announced that it would be canceling its four-week summer camp for local kids with speech and language disorders for the first time in its 44-year history, after the county Department of Education pulled its funding and support from the program because of legal concerns.
After an upwelling of protest from the community, county schools Superintendent James Brescia promised to waive the camp’s outstanding bill from its 2014 session — equivalent to about $55,000 — and rent the county’s Rancho El Chorro facilities to the group essentially for free so that the organization could put on its 2015 summer session.
The move saved the group more than $80,000 in operating costs for this year, Fesler said, but the organization was still left scrambling to figure out what it would need to do to ensure the camp’s long-term financial stability.
The group is now looking to raise approximately $55,000, using a crowdfunding campaign through the website Indiegogo.
That amount would go toward paying for this year’s camp costs such as staffing — which accounts for about 75 percent of the group’s total budget, Fesler said — as well as food, field trips, bussing, clothing and swim passes. It would also add to the camp’s financial reserves for future sessions.
As of Monday afternoon, 127 camp supporters have pledged at total of $29,417 to the program. Of the donations made, four people pledged $500 a piece, three pledged $1,000 and one person pledged the maximum pledge amount of $10,000.
“That was pretty amazing,” Fesler said of the anonymous donation. “We’re really, really so grateful to that person for that donation. It’s amazing.”
The amount raised in the campaign so far ensures that this year’s summer session will take place, she said, but more is needed to ensure the camp’s future financial stability.
“We know for sure that the camp will happen this year with the amount we have raised right now,” she said. “But at this point, if we got no more funding in the campaign, we would be entering next year with our coffers entirely drained, and with no money for next year’s camp.”
The camp is also still actively searching for a long-term partner to help replace the education office’s former financial support, Fesler said, although no viable option has been presented so far.
“What we really need is someone who can come to the table with a significant amount of money to support us over several years in our operations,” she said, noting the group has several fundraisers planned and is looking into grants for additional funding.
In the meantime, planning for this year’s camp session has progressed.
The organization just finished training its teen volunteer mentors, nicknamed “TIGRS,” who work one on one with the campers to help the children accomplish their speech and language therapy goals. They have also begun to receive applications for those campers, who are referred to the program through local school speech and language pathologists.
The opening ceremonies for the session are scheduled for July 3. That wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community in the camp’s hour of need, Fesler said.
“This has been going on for close to 45 years now, and it is a huge part of the local community,” she said. “The fact that we are getting this chance to impact another year of campers and volunteers is absolutely amazing.”
How you can help
To donate to Camp Hapitok, visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-camp-hapitok or spread the word via Twitter with the hashtag #SaveCampHapitok.