Tragic Cutbacks at Hidden Villa
Original post made by Shana Barchas on Jun 8, 2006
I spent nine summers at Hidden Villa (as a camper and as a counselor), and I can say without hesitation that while five-day sessions are fun and educational, 12-day sessions change lives. Without these intense camp experiences, I would not be who I am today a youth advocate at Glide Church in San Francisco's tenderloin district with an unwavering commitment to social justice and non-violent conflict resolution.
I am sending five young people to Hidden Villa this summer with the recognition that these 12 days may just save their lives. Does this sound like an exaggeration? It's not.
In 12 days, a group of campers and counselors can create their own world a world where differences are explored and celebrated, where animals and trees are sacred, and where there are reasons to be alive and strive to do good. Children change. They take their new secret knowledge back to neighborhoods which challenge their worth and they draw on these magical memories for the strength to make good decisions.
With all programming except day camp and junior resident camp cancelled, Hidden Villa camps will not be serving anyone over 10. Who will grow up to be counselors and carry on the legacy? Additionally, day camp serves a much lower percentage of disadvantaged children than any of the overnight camps.
Please, if you have money and Hidden Villa has affected you or someone you care about, make a donation earmarked for camp. Don't let a generation miss out. Don't let the legacy grind to a halt.
on Jun 8, 2006 at 11:32 am
We are outraged by the recent news that Hidden Villa plans to cut out its two-week summer camps at the end of this summer.
How could it have a huge, well-publicized celebration of its 60 years as a camp and not mention to the hundreds of attendees that the whole thing except for the "10 and under group" was going to be killed off? These were the folks who would have responded with horror and organized on the spot to secure financial support to continue the Duveneck dream and commitment.
Hidden Villa has not just been an organic farm promoting conservation values. It was the first multicultural camp in the United States. You can't work toward the dream of transcending class, race and ethnic differences simply with school programs. This dream requires children meeting a diversity of other children on site, working and playing together over an extended period of time such as the two-week camps provided to create community, mutual respect and caring.
We cannot believe that there is not enough money to keep the camp going, since little public effort has been made to secure it. Hidden Villa will not accept weddings, even in April when there is no camp. A summer concert series is free, while the mostly affluent local people who attend could easily afford to pay. They should try a variety of fundraising efforts, including an annual auction, as do other nonprofits.
What's the agenda? Who is forcing this change in direction? It's nice to give organic food to families, but that will not change the lives of their children as camp can.
Hidden Villa's camps are a local treasure with a loyal, loving and activist following that must rally to prevent this dreadful decision from being implemented.
(Published in the Palo Alto Weekly on 6/7/06)
on Jun 8, 2006 at 12:02 pm
Bill D'Agostino is a registered user.
Here's the story:
Layoffs at Hidden Villa, programs in flux
Executive director cites fundraising woes
by Bill D'Agostino
Hidden Villa, a bucolic 1,600-acre farm and wilderness preserve in Los Altos Hills, will temporarily cancel its popular 12-day summer camps in 2007 and is eliminating eight related positions.
The nonprofit's leaders say the changes will help it regain its financial footing and focus on new programs. With the camps suspended, the farm will be able to reopen to the public next summer, after more than a decade of being closed during the warmer months due to safety concerns stemming from the 12-day camps.
Executive Director Beth Ross said Hidden Villa, which teaches young and old about environment stewardship, has been receiving fewer donations.
"Like many nonprofits we have been impacted by a general decline in fundraising experienced after Katrina, Rita and the tsunami disasters," Ross wrote in an e-mail to the Weekly.
"In response to a leveling off of fundraising, Hidden Villa is making changes in our organization while continuing to maintain the integrity of our programs."
According to publicly available tax forms, fundraising had already begun to decline at Hidden Villa before last year's natural disasters.
In 2003-'04, the nonprofit ran a $440,000 budget surplus under Executive Director Judith Steiner. Surpluses were also created in previous years.
After contributions peaked in 2003-'04 at $2.1 million, they dropped to $1.6 million in 2004-'05 under Ross' leadership. That year, the agency ran a $340,000 deficit.
Ross did not despite repeated questioning via e-mail lay out the specifics of this year's $2.6 million budget or next year's $2.3 budget, which the Board of Directors has yet to officially approve.
The board directed Ross to have a balanced budget for 2006-'07, which begins in September, according to board Chair Tom Livermore.
"We're not in financially bad shape at all," Livermore said. "We're just trying to be fiscally responsible and keep ourselves from getting into bad shape."
This summer's camps are unaffected by the change, and Hidden Villa is currently accepting enrollments. Ross did not say when the 12-day sleep-away camps, which 280 junior high school and high school students attend, might return. The camps include traditional summer activities like swimming and archery as well as more environmentally focused pursuits like organic gardening and caring for farm animals.
The Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund recently granted Hidden Villa a $5,000 grant to support its animal program.
Hidden Villa's day camps and five-day junior residential camps will continue uninterrupted, despite the cancellation of the 12-day programs.
Five of the eight employees in the eliminated positions are being offered new jobs at Hidden Villa, Ross wrote. Two of the positions were eliminated earlier this month; the rest will be eliminated at the end of August.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit is starting a new program, "Healthy Food, Healthy Families," that will share 40 percent of its agriculture with families that Mountain View's Community Services Agency serves. The 35,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables are anticipated to feed 4,000 people this summer.
Hidden Villa is also working to have stronger connections to local schools. It currently has staff in schools in Mountain View and Redwood City to promote its curriculum.
Leaders with the organization are also considering new yearlong programs for the older age groups the 12-day camps serve.
"Our environmental education and even our camps to some degree have been great single-time experiences," Livermore said. "We're trying to have a bigger impact on kids' lives by having multiple impacts."
Hidden Villa is also making its hostel and other facilities more available for rental by removing office space.
"We're all really, really excited about our future and our direction," Livermore said.
Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
on Jun 8, 2006 at 1:34 pm
According to a close aquaintence that has personal experience at Hidden Villa, it's board is very constrained - some might say challenged - in its ability to envision a viable future for this wonderful asset. There are too many people on the board that remain "purist" and unwilling to look at new options that would leverage the full promise of Hidden Villa.
Anything that smacks as even a slight diversion by this group is seen as a threat to the "original intent" of the trust. Frankly, that stance has led to a very tragic set of consequences foro a place that could easily be thriving right now, and in the money.
If Hidden Villa is going to survive, it will need to find a way to leverage its inherent advantages into cash. Change is filled with opportunity. Even the Amish recognize that.