It’s the time of year for what-I-did-over-the-summer essays, and for many students, summer camp memories top their lists. But such camp experiences are not financially possible for some students who could benefit from them the most. This is where the John Austin Cheley Foundation (JACF) comes in.
Summer 2018 marked JACF’s 29th season of providing scholarships—called camperships—for two- and four-week wilderness summer camps to youth across the country. They’ve awarded 1,208 camperships, totaling approximately 5 million dollars, so that students can have access to outdoor experiences and leadership-skill-building opportunities.
“A campership isn’t just about affording tuition,” says Tim Lucas, executive director of JACF. “It’s about removing those financial barriers, and making sure they have full access to the program.” JACF students are also given money for traveling to camp, their camp store account, and equipment. Scholarship winners can come back every summer until they reach the camp’s upper age limit, provided the family’s income hasn’t changed.
And the kids want to come back. Lucas reports there is an 83 percent camper retention rate among JACF campership recipients, allowing their skills to build and grow each year.
Savian Johnson, now a junior at Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, has come back summer after summer to Colvig Silver Camps in Durango, and experienced the benefits.
“What did I learn at camp? Perseverance. The concept of just one more step can be applied to about anything in your life,” Johnson says. “One step at a time and you can make it to the end. It also teaches you to enjoy the journey—because it’s not really about the destination.”
In 2017, Johnson completed his Capstone Project—a service learning project offered to older campers—through JACF. Johnson designed a project that focused on the conservation of a natural open space in his community. “It’s also a way for them to give back and understand the value of service to others, just like someone paid it forward for them to go to camp,” Lucas says.
Lucas has seen how the camps benefit not only the scholarship students, but also the middle- and upper-income families who attend.
“Both populations come in with preconceived notions about the other,” Lucas explains. “But when they are integrated for a month, they quickly see it’s not about what you look like or where you come from or how you sound, but about how you apply yourself. It becomes a more inclusive community.”
How Families Can Help
- Mentor a student applying for a camp scholarship. Each scholarship award-winner must have a mentor to guide them through the application process and help them prepare for camp.
- Encourage a hardworking, low-income student to apply for a camp scholarship. New campers age 10 and up can apply for summer 2019 from September 1 through December 1, 2018.
- Give a financial contribution. JACF must raise 90 percent of the money needed to support campers each summer, and receives the majority of its funding from individual donors.
- If you work for an organization or business that serves youth, consider partnering with JACF. Contact Tim Lucas to discuss specific opportunities in this area.