Power in numbers

Montana Kiwanians recruit community partners to save a kids’ camp.

Story by Lori Roberts

The sun will keep shining on the children of Butte, Montana, thanks to a partnership between the Kiwanis Club of Butte and the Butte YMCA. The two groups are working together to ensure that the aptly named Sunshine Camp stays open for years, serving an increasing number of campers each summer and providing safe and fun activities for children whose families may be financially challenged.

The 17-acre property has been in business since 1946, when it was set up as a camp for war orphans, says Tom Waring, a Butte Kiwanis Club member. Its mission evolved over the years, becoming a camp for children from low-income families. 

“A lot of these children’s parents were incarcerated or (the children were) in situations where they were being raised by single parents,” Waring says. “For those children, it was a chance to be in a normal setting for at least a week.”

The Kiwanis club operated the camp for four weeks in July each year, serving children who stayed overnight for a week. But the camp needed physical upgrades, and the club needed help running activities. Operating and maintenance costs reached about US$35,000 a year. So the Kiwanians decided to pursue strategic partnerships.

First, the Building Trades Department of nearby Highlands College stepped up to help with the physical challenges. Students there were willing to help with repairing and adding onto an existing building. The Kiwanis club worked to raise $115,000 in real and in-kind donations to expand the camp’s available indoor space.

The Butte YMCA provided the other piece of the puzzle. Kiwanians asked YMCA leaders if they wanted to take over the campsite for their own summer activities. They enthusiastically accepted and moved their camp headquarters to Camp Sunshine. 

“What the camp really allows us to do is serve considerably more children,” says Phillip Borup, the Butte YMCA’s CEO.

In 2018, the YMCA and Camp Sunshine served 264 children, an increase from 144 the prior year. As the camp entered the summer of 2019, Borup expected to serve nearly 400 children, reach 17,000 camper days and provide as much as $130,000 in scholarships to children in need.

Meanwhile, the Butte Kiwanians stay engaged. Each year, they participate by periodically stopping by to help with lunch.

At this rate, the camp should be sustainable for at least the next 20 years, Waring says. 

“Pretty much everything is new and up to code, so I feel like the facility is in a situation where it will not need a large infusion of capital for a long time.”

This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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