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Same focus, new approach

Mike Genet
mike.genet@examiner.net
Camp RISE, started by Rotaract KC, serves at-risk youths in the metro area, many of whom are homeless. This would have been the camp's fourth year at Rotary Youth Camp. In lieu of traditional camps, Rotary Youth Camp is making monetary and in-kind donations to non-profit organizations this summer.

Normally, the Rotary Youth Camp would now be immersed in a full summer slate of overnight camps for special needs or at-risk children.

While the facility off Colbern Road in Lee’s Summit at the southern tip of Lake Jacomo is quiet instead, Rotary Youth Camp has pivoted to a different plan to aid organizations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The camp was started and is still governed by Downtown Kansas City Rotary Club 13, and normally it hosts about 1,000 campers during the summer season. Under “Rotary Cares” this summer, the service organization is donating its summer camp budget funds – about $50,000 worth, both monetary and in-kind donations – to the families and 13 organizations who had signed up to use the camp grounds over the summer. Among the non-profit groups that traditionally use Rotary Youth Camp in the summer are Boy Scouts, 4-H, Camp RISE and Girls Can Camp. The first round of donations went out this week.

“This year it’s completely different,” Allison Kelly, spokesperson for the Youth Camp, said. “We’re using what we budgeted for food to give back, and we had an application process for group needs and family needs.”

“A lot of our organizations are not equipped to switch over to a day-camp model; at least we don’t have anyone who has taken up that option and tried to get board approval.”

The first round of donations focuses on Chromebooks and tablets for camp families who otherwise might not have access to them, so that children can participate in “virtual camping” activities facilitated by the various nonprofits, such as household activities and crafts and campfire talks with counselors via Zoom.

“We’re acting as a resource; they put together the programming,” Kelly said. “This is all new for everybody, and we’ve tried to facilitate the conversations.”

Next month’s round of donations will focus on food and household supplies for camper families, Kelly said, as such expenses can grow quickly for families and the pandemic has strained some families’ incomes.

Since Rotary Youth Camp started in 1924, it has hosted more than 300,000 special needs children in the summer. Usually, after a summer of hosting organizations that serve special-needs and at-risk children, the camp opens up in the fall for weekend camping to any non-profit organization (the offseason is winter through May). For this year, Kelly said, the camp has cleared a couple weekends for possible reunions in the fall.

“Hopefully,” she said, “if it’s safe in the fall.”