DG: Yes, the growth process has been very fun. The diversity of groups and people we've hosted and the growth of our retreat business has been our most pleasant surprise. During the months of August through October and March through the end of May we average three and sometimes four weekends each month hosting groups as well as five or so schools during weekdays. Our goal is to maximize the use of our facility. School groups and businesses throughout the week as well as weekends. we'd like to be able to hire a full-time retreat staff and serve as many possible campers, people and groups in the fall spring and summer. I don't think either Andy nor I worry about burnout as we truly enjoy being at camp and offering a camp experience for others.
JB: Lovely. That brings us to #CampFerguson. Tell us how that came about, please.
DG: Camp Manitowa started #CampFerguson in the fall of 2014 as a response to the unrest and school closings following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. We felt camp would be an ideal place for kids to come for a respite at the time, as well as a place where they could gain new skills and strengthen relationships with their peers. In the following months, we were able to raise over $15,000 from individual donations, fundraisers with Yoga Buzz, Sugarfire Smoke House, and Brothers Lazaroff Band, and grants from Good People Fund and Wells Fargo to host five free retreats serving over 150 students from Westview Middle School, Jennings High School, and the PAKT Community Center, plus students from Ferguson and the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Day School who participated together in Circus Harmony's Peace Through Pyramids program.
That's from our website so might be a bit formal but we strongly believe that a camp experience is a unique way for kids to build self - confidence, improve social skills and understanding, take safe risks, and have fun. Kids from economically underserved communities often never get an opportunity to get out of the city and go to camp. The events in Ferguson and the national spotlight on it's community needs seemed like a perfect opportunity to engage our Camp Manitowa families, other philanthropic organizations and businesses, and Ferguson schools and community organizations to make these free retreats happen.
JB: I understand that you raised the funds. But have these retreats happened already? If so, tell us how it went. That's what we really want to know!
DG: Yes, we've hosted five different retreats and served over 150 kids from Westview Middle School, Jennings High School, and the PAKT Community Center, and students from Ferguson and the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Day School who participated together in Circus Harmony's Peace Through Pyramids program. Every retreat was awesome. The kids were adventurous and tried all of our camp activities, many such as canoeing, hiking, climbing tower, ropes course, zip lining, that they had never tried before. They also tie dyed t shirts, played sports, rode bikes all around camp, had great conversations at the campfire and made plenty of s'mores. They told us these were some of the most rewarding and memorable experiences for them. Our camp staff volunteered to come work the retreats, we had adults come volunteer, and partnered with the U. of MO St. Louis School of Social work and had three social work students volunteer at the retreats. Overall, every retreat was an overwhelming success where kids had a ton of fun!
JB: It sounds wonderful. Going forward, do you plan to repeat or expand the program of free retreats?
DG: Yes, we would absolutely love to expand these retreats to serve larger groups of students from the schools who've already attended as well as reach out to new schools and organizations. As with any high profile event that garners a lot of publicity and support, things eventually fade from people's' collective attention. We've gotten positive responses from each group that's come to camp and a commitment that they'd like to return. We're committed to putting up our own money and are actively searching for additional funding.
JB: If our readers agree with you that this is a real and positive way to counteract what happened in Ferguson in August of last year, how can we help?
DG: We believe there are lasting positive outcomes for kids who have a camp experience which multiply with repeatedly returning to camp. We've seen shy, awkward middle school kids grow into confident leaders in high school and college based in part on consistently attending camp.