Camp Hapitok closes after 45 years of helping kids with speech disorders

Austin Hall, left, gets some instruction from Erica Mundell-McGilvray during a tie-dye tile-making class at Camp Hapitok in July.
Austin Hall, left, gets some instruction from Erica Mundell-McGilvray during a tie-dye tile-making class at Camp Hapitok in July. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A longtime local summer camp aimed at helping kids with speech and language disorders has ended.

Camp Hapitok, pronounced “happy talk,” has released a statement from its board on its website, saying “after careful consideration of our current situation, future needs and the ability to meet those needs, it is with great sadness that the Board of Directors is announcing their decision to dissolve the corporation and close Camp Hapitok.”

The camp’s existence was in jeopardy before last summer, when the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education announced that it was pulling its support from the program because of legal concerns. The program was founded in 1970.

County Superintendent of Schools 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 the nonprofit Friends of Camp Hapitok while the group’s workers were employed by the county.

The group previously paid about $30,000 annually to rent the Rancho El Chorro Outdoor Educational Facilities and for administrative services from the education office. The county office recruited and employed all staff and provided insurance coverage for the camp.

But with the camp on the verge of closure last summer, Brescia waived an outstanding bill Hapitok owed from its 2014 session — about $55,000 — and rented out the Rancho El Chorro facilities to the group essentially for free, saving a total of about $80,000 in operational costs to keep the program afloat another year.

Fundraising and financing efforts for this summer fell short of what Camp Hapitok would need to continue.

“Losing the umbrella of SLOCOE necessitated changes in our operations and forced us to take a long, hard look at the ongoing viability of our organization,” the board wrote on the website. “We have spent countless hours, with the help of a board consultant, looking for a solution to our operational and financial issues.”

Campers attended four-week sessions, staying overnight from Monday through Friday. They participated in one-on-one speech therapy sessions with speech pathologists; games and activities focusing on motor and balance skills; nature hikes, fishing and science projects; and arts and crafts.

The camp participated in field trips to places such as the San Luis Obispo airport, Morro Bay Museum of Natural History and downtown San Luis Obispo.

The camp founder, Doreen Deppler, remained involved with the program until its final days, serving on its board until the closure was announced this month.

“Even though we may be closing our doors, we hope you, along with us, will take comfort in knowing that Camp Hapitok has made a difference in the lives of countless children and in realizing, the Hapitok Spirit will live on in each and every one of us,” the board wrote.