Significance, Scope, Need
An experience at Camp Gray is an incredibly fun time for young people. More than that, kids leave having learned invaluable lessons. Kids grow in self-esteem, respect, responsibility and resiliency. These skills help our campers to stay sharp during a time when otherwise schools report a high-level of summer learning loss.
During the school year, young people from schools near and far join us for countless retreats. By partnering with schools (both public and parochial – 38 of 42 schools in the Diocese of Madison join us for retreats), we’re given the great responsibility of enhancing the great learning that young people are already experiencing in their schools. It’s a partnership we’re proud to be a part of.
From more than a dozen states, our 60-person Summer Camp Staff arrives each year prepared to impact the lives of our nearly 1,400 campers. Through an extensive application process, including an interview and a thorough background check, they’ve been chosen from hundreds of applicants. Once staff arrives at Camp Gray to begin the season, they’re meticulously trained in the ways of Camp Gray. Our staffers are responsible for the safety and well-being of our many, many campers, while also providing an unforgettable experience of fun.
Camp Gray’s proposed project will address countless problems and inadequacies. Since opening more than 60 years ago, Camp Gray’s attendance has increased steadily until 2010, when we reached our full capacity of 1,300 summer campers. Since then, our waitlist has grown to more than 200 hopeful campers. Limited to accepting only the campers we are able to shelter, feed and keep active indoors during inclement weather, we have had to turn these 200 campers away every year for the last four years.
The age and disrepair of the dining hall, one of our most important buildings, is our most critical need. Built originally as an open-air pavilion, meals in the late 1950s and early 1960s were cooked over a fire pit located on the north side of the structure. Later, walls were hung and a kitchen was built; however, these improvements weren’t done with year-round use in mind. Weekly summer enrollment is now 150 campers plus 60 staff eating three meals per day – that‘s 630 meals daily and thousands in a week. The kitchen was built, in its present form, when there were half as many campers during the summer and no visitors during the off-season.
When the kitchen was built, it was done so during a time that Summer Camp numbers were half what they are now. When the size and state of our current kitchen and cooking facilities are seen, one can’t help but wonder how a kitchen crew of six members can properly and possibly make enough food to feed 200 people three times a day. Nearly 60 years of patchwork additions and repairs have left us in a difficult situation. Currently, many thousands of dollars of repairs are required to maintain our current building and kitchen. As a nonprofit, we do all that we can to stretch our modest budget. Continuing to invest many thousands of dollars into a crumbling building would be irresponsible.
The many repairs needed to simply keep the dining hall and kitchen open still would do nothing to solve the space needs. A new dining hall with a kitchen is a much wiser investment. It will increase winter area dining capacity from 60 to 320 and include an improved and expanded storm shelter to ensure camper safety in all conditions. It will create opportunities to expand capacity for more program offerings – and more life-changing experiences. A new dining hall will also include a basement for games and arts and crafts during poor weather and create flexible dining areas to enable accommodation of more than one retreat group at a time. The time has come for a new dining hall.
We are also in dire need of a new indoor gym. The current gym was built more than 50 years ago at a cost of $2,400. Various parts of the facility are in disrepair and the heavier volume has placed more stress on the building than could have possibly ever been predicted five decades ago. It is time to invest in a new gym that will create a year-round space for recreation, include a confidence-building climbing wall and add space for team building.
While campers and parents consistently praise the Camp Gray experience, the need for a new dining hall and lack of an indoor gym, as well as the need for additional camper capacity, are our most critical needs.
Camp Gray, the summer camp and year-round retreat center for the Catholic Diocese of Madison, welcomes campers of all ages, races and faiths from throughout southern Wisconsin and around the Midwest. While all ages are served, many programs focus on students in grades 2-12.
During Summer Camp, Camp Gray offers many traditional programs and sessions for campers in grades 2-12 with activities such as canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, sports, etc., and in all we do, we incorporate the Catholic faith. In addition to standard traditional Summer Camp programs, we also offer a Ranch Camp (for campers who are fans of horses), as well as a Voyageur Wilderness Tripping Program (for campers that want to spend their week in northern Wisconsin on the rivers, lakes, and trails of the north woods). The majority of our summer camp sessions are one week, while there are a few two-week sessions as well as a few shorter options.
In addition to our Summer Camp, we welcome more than 3,000 young people to Camp Gray between September and May. More than 70 schools and churches participate throughout the school year in one of our many retreats (teambuilding, leadership, environmental stewardship and Confirmation).
Program and Evaluation (Project Goals, Benefits for Participants)
It’s not an overstatement to describe Camp Gray as an industry leader. Camp Gray has been recognized 6 of the last 7 years at the American Camp Association (ACA) – Wisconsin Conference with the Excellence in Photography Award. In addition, in 2014, Camp Gray was recognized at the ACA –Wisconsin Conference with the Program of Excellence for our Marketing and Retention with Social Media. The videos that are created at Camp Gray too are some of the best in the camping industry, leading many camps to reach out to us for pointers. These many ways of telling the story of Camp Gray would be, regardless of the quality, ineffective if it were not for the overall top-notch quality of our Camp programs. Campers come back year after year because, in their words, “it’s the very best week of my year.” Please view a Camp Gray video posted on YouTube at: http://tiny.cc/CampGrayParadox for an impression of Camp Gray from the perspective of one of our campers.
As Camp Gray becomes more and more well-known in the world of camping, it has presented our staffers with several opportunities to team with other industry leaders as guests on camp podcasts, as presenters at camp conferences, and as speakers at high schools, parishes and youth events around the Diocese of Madison.
What value do we provide to our constituents? Camp Gray provides an experience that positively impacts thousands of lives per year. Clearly, Camp is more than a place to canoe and ride horses. It is a faith-filled experience that educates
and inspires young people on their journey of faith. These early connections are crucial; history has taught us that the campers of today are the faith leaders of tomorrow. We provide a place that builds up young people in the faith, providing them with a flame that they take back to their schools, churches and neighborhoods. We provide, to our constituents, an experience that is changing their world and ours for the better.