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Save Hidden Villa Summer Camp

Original post made by Heather, Los Altos, on Jun 11, 2006

I was shocked and confused when I heard the news that Hidden Villa’s Executive Director and Board are planning to cut back camp programs, and end its 12-day residential camp. I went to Hidden Villa Summer Camp for four years as a camper and then proceeded to work another six summers as a counselor and program director. The time I spent at Hidden Villa Summer Camp changed the course of my live and has affected me in ways my parents never imagined that first summer they shipped me off to camp.

For all who have survived adolescence themselves or are helping their children through this difficult time, you can realize the value of Hidden Villa’s 12-day programs for teenagers. As a child, it was the only two weeks of the year where I really was able to be myself, where long lasting friendships were formed across race and class barriers, and where I began to really think about my role in creating a better world. My closest friends today are these same people, who I would never have met were it not for the magic of Hidden Villa Summer Camp.

During my experiences as a counselor, I realized my commitment and joy for working with a diverse group of at-risk youth and the importance of creating new leaders in the movement for equality and social justice. Since ending my work at camp I have worked in group homes, juvenile detention facilities, after-school programs, and now I’m a bilingual teacher in Hayward. I now send 6 of my students each year to the 2 week Residential program at camp. I watch every year how they return changed in some significant way, how in two weeks at camp they are able to get something I can’t give them in a year of schooling.

The reason we’ve been given for the changes and cutbacks to camp are primarily financial. But I am unable to understand why no fundraising letter has been sent to the mailing list. Or why there was no mention of the financial crisis at the well attended 60 year camp reunion, which was full of people whose lives were changed by camp and would be happy to make a donation to keep its programs running.

A group of previous campers and counselors have formed the Committee to Save Hidden Villa Summer Camp. We are a group of teachers, social workers, counselors, and youth advocates who have no other agenda then the desire to see camp continue in its current form. We’ve been spending our nights and lunch breaks trying to get the word out, to fundraise, and to help pull together those thousands of people who know how important these 2-week sessions are. For 60 years Hidden Villa Summer Camp has brought together young people from different backgrounds and created a true multi-racial environmentally aware community that I have yet to truly see or experience in any other place. The impact that these 12 days have made on the lives of thousands of people is incalculable. It’s not too late to change the Board of Directors decision and to raise the money needed for next summer. For more information please go to Web Link Together we can ensure that future generations will be touched by this special place.

Thank you,
Heather Skibbins

Comments (2)

Posted by Tom Livermore, Chair, Hidden Villa Board of Trustees
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 15, 2006 at 9:54 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 Matt Watson
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2006 at 2:25 pm

"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"

With all due respect, this sounds like what someone would say in the board room of Pepsi Co. The important objective isn't corporate re-branding, its passing your message on to your community both locally and globaly. The camps make connections with young people that have a lasting and profound effect. I did two years cabin-boy, two years bluff-boy and two years Bay to Sea, and I can honestly say those were some of the best times of my young life. I would argue they are the true heart of Hidden Villa.

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