Clark County based nonprofit growing impact in youth and foster families
BATTLE GROUND — Nestled along a bend of the East Fork Lewis River, just across the way from Lewisville Park, lies a multi-purpose outdoor wonderland with a core goal of reaching Clark County’s youth with compassion.
“There is such a need out there, and I just feel blessed that I get the opportunity to serve these kids and hear about their lives,” said Executive Director Darlene Kulla. “They can feel like, ‘Yes, there is hope, even if it’s hard.’”
Camp Hope is a Battle Ground-based nonprofit operating a historic outdoor facility, just off SR 503. Spanning more than 100 acres, the facility features several pods of cabins with an outdoor amphitheater and fire pit area, as well as activities such as archery, hiking, horseback riding, building projects, team building, cave exploration, and more.
“We have our regulars who have been coming for years now, and then we have had so many new kids come too, and that’s been super exciting,” said Executive Assistant Cindy Heer. “We really want to increase our presence in the community out at networking events, so that people know that we are here.”
Camp Hope opened its doors in 2012 and has continued to grow ever since. In 2018, the facility served nearly 800 children from all walks of life. This summer, close to every single day has been occupied with in house or partnership programs.
Growing attendance and interest for the camp’s two main programs, Outdoor Discovery Day Camps and Foster Family Camps, has even maxed out the current capacity of the mainly volunteer team.
The need for volunteers, sponsors and community partners is very important right now, said Kulla. The connections are what allow the organization to welcome a growing number of children and students, she said.
In the coming months, as school starts and the camp’s “slow season” begins, Heer and Kuhla said they will begin building a strategic plan to accomplish several linchpin goals. The non-stop summer has offered little time to breathe, Heer said, so soon brainstorming will be able to begin.
Garnering funds from new sources and grants is a top priority, as is finding new ways to connect with businesses and volunteers.
Among many others, iQ Credit Union has been a long time supporter and has aided in acquiring smaller grants for the camp, while larger grants are acquired with the help of a grant writer at the county. In past years, Camp Hope has been awarded grant money from the Parks Foundation and Washington state.
Specifically the “No Child Left Inside” grant program, provided through general state funding to Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, has been a great asset according to Heer. It is managed by the State Recreation and Conservation Office.
This year, the camp did not receive a larger grant through the state, and subsequently has had to pay out of pocket for several of their program expenditures, Heer said.
The Outdoor Discovery Camps, which are held every month March through November, cost $50 per child and last all day. Volunteers work with teams throughout the day to teach outdoor skills and science, as well as foster unity through team exercises.
“We can’t do this without volunteers,” Kulla said. “It’s all about building our team and working together. We’re serving more kids than ever.”
Adult volunteers are needed all the time, Kulla said, and are always properly vetted through background checks and set up for success through training. Camp Hope is always accepting applications for volunteer mentors as well as office staff and coordinators.
In addition, many partnership camps can happen during the week and not only on weekends. This means many regular volunteers are working and unavailable, Kulla said. Finding more volunteers that are available other than weekends is an ongoing goal of the organization.
Equally important in the organization’s mission are their Foster Family Camps. Every summer, the camp currently hosts 16 foster families. Made possible through direct connections with DHS and foster family community groups, the camps give the parents time to relax, while giving the children time to unplug.
During a recent fundraising banquet for the organization, Kulla’s daughter Rose, who volunteers at the camp, told a story that impressed upon Heer in a powerful way.
“She was talking to one of the little girls, about her life, just listening to her talk. And she said her online life is more exciting than her real life,” Heer said. “And then she paused, and she said, ‘Except for when I come here, to Camp Hope.’ That’s why we exist. We want to help fix that, and get kids outside into nature, and really understand who they are as a person and their value in this world.”
“They are capable of things far bigger than the internet,” she said.
Positive responses have been common among the foster families involved with the program, Kulla said. The Foster Camps are kept private and not advertised other than through direct connections, for the safety of the children.
During a recent Foster Family Camp, Kulla, her husband Reuben, and one of their daughters brought a few foster children on a hike. Kulla walked away with her own impactful story.
“As the hike got going, halfway there, this little boy said, ‘Well, this is kinda like we’re a big family.’ And remember he’s a foster kid,” she said. “And he’s like, ‘Let’s just pretend, you’re my dad, you’re my sister, and pretty soon he has his dream about that.”
At the end of the hike the little boy realized they wouldn’t be a family anymore. He wanted to go on the hike again the next day so bad. Many children have begun to ask for longer camps with two nights up to a week, so they can become even more involved, said Kulla.
“It’s hard to send them home, but we just do what we can,” Kulla said.
In an effort to get more children to camps and longer camps, both Outdoor Discovery and Foster Family, Heer is looking into applying for educational facility status. The camps already focus on teaching outdoor skills and science.
This status would allow for more grant opportunities and a greater ability to provide scholarships for children. The vast majority who are in need of them are foster children, she said.
“Funding is a big thing,” Heer said. “Because we have been so hyper focused on the actual programs themselves, and the kids, we haven’t really explored more funding opportunities I know exist out there.”
If you, an organization or business you know of, is interested in partnering with Camp Hope, more information can be found on their website, at camphope-wa.org/donate. If you are interested in volunteering, you can visit the website or call Camp Director Darlene Kulla at (360) 904 7526.