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Tragic Cutbacks at Hidden Villa

Original post made by Shana Barchas, another community, on Jun 8, 2006

I was devastated by the announcement (Weekly, May 19) that Hidden Villa is going to put its 12-day camp sessions "on hold" starting next summer.

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.

Comments (8)

Posted by Mark & Kay Barchas
a resident of Los Altos Hills
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)

Posted by Bill D'Agostino
Palo Alto Weekly reporter
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

Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
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.

Posted by Shana Barchas
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 11, 2006 at 1:56 pm

A group of former counselors and campers committed to the survival of Hidden Villa Camp has created a website: We are doing everything in our power to keep camp alive for the next generation(s) -- writing letters to newspapers and board members, contacting everyone who has ever been associated with the camp, and collecting paypal contributions and pledges for donations. The website is being worked on as we speak, so please check it regularly over the next few weeks. Remember, the board will vote on next year's budget June 22nd. If you feel that Hidden Villa's resident camps have value, this is the time to act. Thank you!

Posted by Kay Barchas
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 13, 2006 at 12:39 pm

The website now has an on-line petition and you can sign to support their goal of continuing Hidden Villa Camp with a place to pledge money in support if they do so.

Posted by J Taylor
a resident of El Carmelo School
on Jun 15, 2006 at 4:54 pm

It would be nice if someone from Hidden Villa could post some response. There are a lot of HV fans in the community and lots of questions with not enough answers.

Posted by Tom Livermore, Chair, Hidden Villa Board of Trustees
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 15, 2006 at 9:29 pm

I would like to respond to the concerns expressed over the decision by Hidden Villa’s board of trustees to put 12-day residence camps on hold for summer 2007. First I would like to point out that the moratorium on part of our summer camp (70% of the program remains intact) is just one piece of a much bigger picture. As trustees we are responsible for ALL of Hidden Villa’s programs and resources, and how they fit within the overarching mission and goals of the organization. We fully understand the importance of a longer residence camp experience, and we are committed to having a youth program with a residential component.

For nearly a year we have been involved in a strategic planning process - we have been looking at our programs and goals, for the purpose of fine-tuning them to remain responsive to our constituents and relevant to our social environment. At the same time, we have been developing a sustainable business plan, so we can remain fiscally healthy and continue to serve future generations.

Although it is with great reluctance that we suspend 12-day camp sessions that serve nearly 300 youth each summer, we will still hold summer camp for 650 youngsters, and a high percentage of them will come on scholarship. Our school field trips serve 19,500 each year - more than 260 schools participate, representing diverse communities from all over the Bay Area with more than 20% of attendees on scholarship. Our in-school program at Taft School serves 300 students from the low-income, Spanish-speaking Fair Oaks district in Redwood City - a Hidden Villa teacher works with these students 3-4 days a week for 9 months. Our organic farm provides fresh produce for more than 4000 needy families in our neighboring communities of Mountain View and Los Altos. We are not abandoning the Duveneck legacy of social justice. Quite the contrary, we are working to make it an even more integral part of Hidden Villa.

We believe our programs are timely and responsive to the community. However the fact also remains that, in order to be fiscally responsible, we must trim our operating budget by $350,000. This was a difficult decision, because 80% of our budget is in personnel costs. Yes, we have made cuts to camp, but we have made cuts across the board - 60% in administration and development, and 40% in programs.

It’s so easy to say “raise more money.” Our development staff is already raising over $1.5 million, nearly 70% of the organization’s revenue (the amount not covered by program fees), and it too has lost one full-time employee. But fund raising challenges aside, the critical issue is CHANGE. We cannot just rest on our laurels. We must make sure that we are still serving our community, that our programs remain relevant, and that we are still transforming lives. That is the true Duveneck legacy.

Our job is not only to look backwards at what we have done well, but more importantly to look forward to what we can do better.

Posted by Polly Clare-Rothe
a resident of another community
on Jun 16, 2006 at 2:51 pm

When I come home from Hidden Villa Summer Camp, my body dusty, my face streaked with tears from leaving my new "family," I struggle to explain the magic of the farm camp.

My friends ask what I did while I was away and I try to answer. "We made wool bracelets and cleaned up cow poop. Sometimes I swam. I made cheese once and harvested potatoes," I say.

These things, though, while fun, are not what make the camp the incredible experience that it is. After eight years of sleeping under the stars with kids from all backgrounds, I know that people who have not been immersed for 12 days in the Hidden Villa community will never understand the power of it.

By the end of camp each summer, I've not only learned a few new slang words, forgotten what it feels like to be clean and made new friends — I have been deeply affected. Hidden Villa serves as a place where people can escape the restrictions of their roots, gain perspective, and learn cooperation and acceptance.

Hidden Villa is planning to cancel the 12-day programs after this summer. At this camp, children and teens are free from their stress — whether that stress is from staying safe on the street or applying to college — and are able to grow into their best selves.

To deny campers this experience in the future is a tragedy.

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