Hidden Villa board 'regrets' actions, vows to save camp | September 20, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 20, 2006

Hidden Villa board 'regrets' actions, vows to save camp

Environmental nonprofit deems summer camp 'integral' to the organization, pledges to find funding

by Jay Thorwaldson

Hidden Villa's embattled Board of Directors — stung yet inspired by sharp criticism of its decision to cut a 60-year-old summer residential camp for youth next year — emerged from a weekend retreat with a strong resolve to save the program, according to board Chair Lee N. Price.

Price and other board members composed a candid letter to "stakeholders" in Hidden Villa, signed by board members and Executive Director Beth Ross, in which they said they "regret some of our recent actions and have reconsidered how we would like to proceed."

In June, the board decided in a split 8-to-8 vote to adopt a budget that didn't include the 12-day camp in 2007.

In the letter, the board outlined four points that emerged from what Lee termed a "positive and productive" retreat.

First, it stated, board members "came away with a clear sense that 12-day residential camp is integral to Hidden Villa.

"This was one of the Duvenecks' first programs to bring children to the ranch and is fundamental to diversity and environmental education, two of our primary missions."

The second point covered a $450,000 deficit the organization faced at the end of August, noting that the board cut the budget by 15 percent, 60 percent from administration costs and the rest from operations such as the summer camp.

The letter emphasized that contrary to some news reports, only the 12-day residential camp was cut while a five-day camp and day camps for younger children were retained, accounting for about three quarters of the 950 campers who usually attend.

Third, the letter said it would cost about $300,000 to run the full residential camp, but a special appeal initiated in July has already raised $131,000 toward that goal, which will virtually guarantee at least one camp session plus a wilderness experience for the campers.

The fourth point was an appeal for contributions, based on the board's understanding that the residential camp "is one of the signature programs of Hidden Villa and must be protected."

The letter said the board is planning an "open community forum" in late October.

The letter said members engaged in a "very frank and collaborative discussion."

In a separate telephone interview, Price said the decision to postpone an annual environmental awards dinner usually held in October was not connected to any division over the summer camp.

Price said the dinner's postponement — forestalling a major fundraising event the reportedly raises $90,000 to 100,000 annually — was due to lack of staff. One member of the four-person fund-development staff was laid off at the end of August and two others resigned. It was simply too big a job for the remaining person, even with an assistant who was just hired, he said.

The event is being rescheduled for next April.

Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com.


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