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Community effort saves sixth-grade camp program

Camp Seymour is the perfect backdrop for Enumclaw
Camp Seymour is the perfect backdrop for Enumclaw's sixth-grade outdoor education program.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Will Stuenkel

“Hi, ho. Hi, ho. It’s off to camp we go.”

That’s what Enumclaw School District sixth-grade students should be singing on the bus to Gig Harbor in October as they head off for an abbreviated version of the traditional outdoor education program.

Camp Director Steve Rabb said it’s all thanks to the diehard effort of parent April Gallagher.

When the school district made the nearly 30-year-old camp program part of its budget reductions in the spring, student Kaycee Gallagher – then a fifth-grader – wrote a letter to Superintendent Mike Nelson asking if options were available, like fundraising.

April Gallagher started asking questions and finding supporters, and soon there was a grassroots effort among future sixth-grade parents to raise $60,000 and save the camp.

“She single-handedly spearheaded this thing and resurrected this program,” Rabb said. “If someone like April hadn’t stepped up it wouldn’t have happened.”

Gallagher said it’s been a great learning experience for Kaycee, who’s been part of the charge.

“She’s very excited about going to camp,” April said. “It’s a huge thing for Kaycee. She’s learned a lot. She’s been part of the whole thing. She learned if you want something you have to work for it.”

Participants and leaders say camp is more than an outdoor science classroom. It’s an opportunity for students who come from the district’s five elementary schools to build relationships at the beginning of their middle school experience; and it fosters lifelong memories.

“It’s a big thing,” Rabb said. “We have parents who were campers themselves or were camp counselors.”

This year, camp is expected to involve approximately 320 sixth-grade students, 56 Enumclaw High School student counselors and 12 teachers.

To cut costs, the traditional five-day camp will be slimmed down to two three-day sessions that will run back-to-back beginning Oct. 12. Thunder Mountain Middle School students will go Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday, while Enumclaw Middle School will go half a day Wednesday, Thursday and return Friday. There will be no parent night visitation, Rabb said, but students should get a good slice of everything else the program has to offer.

Fundraising has occurred in two phases. The first phase began in the spring when Gallagher rallied the troops to come up with approximately $7,000 through a coffee fundraiser to secure its reservation at Camp Seymour.

Each student will need to come up with about $200 on their own. Students have always had to pay a portion of camp costs. Traditionally, they’ve been able to participate in fundraisers to help defray those costs. This year was no exception.

During the summer, the group continued to raise money to help cover the cost of transportation, the camp counselors and teachers who attend, and provide scholarship money for those who can’t make the total, but want to go. This too has been a camp tradition.

“We’ve never denied a student because they couldn’t pay,” Rabb said. “Hopefully, every student who wants to go will go.”

Last year, camp organizers provided approximately 14 full scholarships and eight partial ones. Gallagher is encouraging families who can give more to the program to do so to help cover the scholarship program for those who can’t afford it.

“We will make sure everyone that wants to go to camp can go,” Gallagher said.

Parents hosted a family movie night, sold pizza coupons and ran a garage sale, during the summer, Gallagher said. The group has also picked up donations from the Muckleshoot Tribe and several businesses. A bonus, two parents, who are nurses, are volunteering their time at camp, a cost usually included as part of the expenses.

Rabb didn’t expect camp funding to be restored in the coming budget year, but as long as students and parents are interested he thinks the program will continue.

“We need the same thing,” he said. “We need somebody to step up.”

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