Wonderland Camp is an amazing place that is many things to many people. For the children, teenagers, and adults with disabilities who spend a summer week there, it’s where they aren’t “different,” but rather respected and accepted for who they are. For the campers’ caregivers, it’s a week of respite–a break from the constant worry and duties that come with caring for someone with special needs. And for the camp counselors, it’s an enriching experience that requires patience, humor, and kindness.
Wonderland Camp started in 1969 when two brothers-in-law donated 200 acres to create a place for people with disabilities to experience the exhilaration of outdoor play. A camp designed to meet their special medical needs, provide them maximum safety, and offer them freedom to enjoy nature. Wonderland now welcomes more than 1,000 campers each year.
We recently spoke with Lori Miller, President of Wonderland Camp’s Board of Directors, and asked her to share her thoughts about camp:
How did you get started with Wonderland Camp? My sister and I have been coming down since we were little kids as our grandfather, Charlie, built the camp. He had two sons—my dad Keith, and my Uncle Phil. Phil had Prader-Willi Syndrome, and Charlie was unhappy there was nowhere for him to go to camp all those times Keith got to go. So, much later, after he retired, Charlie and my grandmother Alice decided to fix that problem. Our whole family has been a part of it ever since.
What are your responsibilities as president of Wonderland’s board of directors? I have the privilege of leading our board in setting goals and raising funds for our camp. We’re always looking to improve the camp experience—from getting new adventure equipment to enhancing the food choices in the dining hall to improving processes in the clinic. Our board discusses and approves strategies like this, and then we work hard to raise the money to pay for them. We want to keep our camper fee as low as we can, so that means raising money to pay for the things we want and need.
What does Wonderland mean to its campers? In a word, it means freedom. Many of our campers have less control of their daily activities than they would wish because they depend heavily on others. At camp, they choose what they want to do, they can get around almost everywhere on their own, and they fit in completely. Of course, they also spend a lot of time outdoors which is enriching and joyful for any of us.
What is your biggest fundraising challenge? Getting people excited about funding daily operations. It’s much more fun to contribute to a new climbing wall or even a remodeled bathroom. But our operational expenses need to be covered too…liability insurance, electricity, pool chemicals, workers’ comp, etc. Our camper fee covers about 2/3 of those; we are always challenged to get donations to cover the other 1/3 so we don’t have to raise our fees any higher.
What are your hopes for the future of the camp? We’d love to be able to expand the number of nights camp is in session. It takes staff to make that happen. Our campers need at least a 1-to-3 ratio and many need 1-to-1. Our wonderful college counselors are perfect in the summer; it’s hard to find that kind of help other times of year. Yet camp is gorgeous in the fall and spring, and we’d love to serve more people. We’re focusing now on offering family camps as a way to expand. We hope parents will bring all their kids, including those with disabilities, for an all-in weekend experience this fall!
What do you wish other people knew about Wonderland Camp? We’re so proud of the respite we offer to parents and caregivers. Any of your readers who know caregivers know it’s tough work–all based in love but still tiring. Our donors aren’t just giving campers a wonderful week; they’re giving parents and caregivers what sometimes is their only vacation of the year.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating to Wonderland Camp? You can trust in 48 years of a family legacy, a strong board, and a professional staff to use your money wisely. Our mission is to serve campers, their families, and our summer staff, and we put donations directly into that service. Please come down and see us any time!
We are excited to partner with Wonderland Camp! To learn more about this amazing organization, visit their website: www.wonderlandcamp.org