Reaching Campers through Camps: A Conversation with UltraCamp

Joelle Ashley and Jen Payne

UltraCamp executives Dan Ashley and Jason Payne believe in the positive influence of camp on the lives of children, youth, and adults, and they are committed to spreading that influence to as many campers as possible. That’s why they’ve created a nationwide camper scholarship program, the UltraCamp Foundation, which partners with ACA. ACA has always relied on partnerships for the capacity to distribute the Send a Child to Camp Fund, but the UltraCamp Foundation is unique in that it’s ACA’s first partner with a national reach. The UltraCamp Foundation, like other distribution partners, works only with ACA-accredited camps.

We recently caught up with Dan and Jason at their headquarters in Michigan and asked them a few questions about UltraCamp Foundation’s involvement in ACA’s national outreach initiative, the 20/20 Vision, and how the UltraCamp Foundation is helping send more deserving kids to camp each year.

Q: ACA’s 20/20 Vision is about a commitment to seeing at least 20 million children attending camp by the year 2020. And UltraCamp Foundation is making it easier to match kids with camp experiences. What’s the connection; why is sending kids to camp part of UltraCamp Foundation’s mission?
DAN: Well, going to camp is personal for me. I was a camper. I know what it did for me as a camper and as staff. As a camper, camp gave me all kinds of opportunities to explore and experience activities and cultures that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise — kids from different areas and neighborhoods and backgrounds and income levels. We were all thrown together in a cabin and encouraged to be friends and get along and work together. As a camp staff member, the responsibilities and leadership opportunities that you have as an emerging adult are really not comparable to any other job. And for me, it developed a sense of social responsibility and care for others — kids especially.

Q: How about you, Jason? Share a little of why you want to help send more young people to camp.
JASON: I also attended camp as both a camper and staff member, and I really enjoyed it. Working at camp, I liked having the opportunity to give back to the camp community and, as a counselor, take care of kids directly. It was just a really great experience! I fell in love with the camp experience and what it can do for kids. I even met my wife at camp. We were married in a church nearby the camp and held our reception in the very lodge where we met. It was the best benefit I reaped from camp!

From all of my experiences — I’m sure Dan agrees, and really, I think everybody who works here agrees — it’s a natural continuation to leverage the success of UltraCamp Foundation on behalf of sending kids to camp. Everybody should have a chance to experience camp.

Q: Tell us about how UltraCamp Foundation does that.
JASON: We’ve created the UltraCamp Foundation to begin sponsoring camps and give them the funds necessary to get kids to camp. This year we’ve partnered with the American Camp Association to provide scholarships to nine different camps. Over the next couple of years, we’ll be looking for additional partners to expand the program and reach as many camps as possible to try to get as many kids to camp that wouldn’t ordinarily have that opportunity. ACA’s 20/20 Vision really aligns well with our goals for the foundation.

Q: So the UltraCamp Foundation is its own nonprofit entity that accepts tax-deductible donations to send kids to camp?
JASON: Yes.

Q: Can parents apply to the UltraCamp Foundation for money to send their children to camp?
JASON: No. We work exclusively with camps to support their efforts. They’re in a better position than we are to evaluate the needs of their constituents, so no, we don’t distribute money directly to campers in need.

Q: What’s the process a camp director should follow to be considered for an UltraCamp Foundation scholarship?
DAN: To apply (we wanted to make the process as easy as possible), camp directors just go to http://foundation.ultracamp.com and fill out a very short survey about their camp. It takes about fifteen minutes. They provide us with a copy of their brochure and that’s it!

Q: You require eligible camps to reduce their fees for worthy campers, and parents have to pay something. What is your reasoning behind that?
JASON: Yes, we require camps to discount their fees by one-third for scholarship recipients. Really, this just helps us weed out camps who are seeking grant money to increase their profit margin. And yes, we also require the parents or guardians to contribute something, as determined by the camp, for the fees. It’s just been our experience — our camp experience — that has taught us the personal investment of camper families helps foster appreciation for the opportunity to attend camp.

Q: Tell us about the selection process. Once camps have applied at the UltraCamp Foundation’s Web site, what happens next? How do camps get chosen to receive grant monies?
DAN: The selection process requires a couple of steps for us. Based on the number of applications we receive, we actually have to do a random selection of about twice the number of camps to whom we’re going to award scholarships. So we randomly select about twice that number and then bring in an outside committee.

Q: When you say, “outside committee,” what do you mean?
DAN: We bring in people from the community and from the camp industry who are not affiliated with UltraCamp Foundation to do the final selection process. We assist them by providing them with the randomly selected applications and answering any questions they may have about the process, but the committee actually does the selection. They give us the result, and we communicate to everyone the selected camps to receive the money.

Q: So that money just finds its way into the accounts of those camps?
DAN: After the selection process, we send the camps a letter indicating they’ve been awarded a grant of “x” number of dollars. Then, at the end of the summer, the camps have to go back to the foundation Web site and record information regarding who attended camp on our scholarship for statistical reporting. Once they complete that, we send them the check.

Q: How much money is that?
DAN: This past year it was $3,000.00 per camp. We’re hoping that number will grow as the UltraCamp Foundation grows.

Q: It sounds like you’ve set UltraCamp Foundation to work on reaching the 20 million campers by 2020.
DAN: Well, that’s the goal. It was really insightful and inspiring for ACA to throw down the gauntlet, so to speak. It’s a challenge to proponents of camp to support financially their belief in the power of camp to impact lives and, hence, society positively.

JASON: And I think the numbers and timeline they’ve thrown out help make the goal tangible. Clearly, though, it’s something that no organization can accomplish by itself. We want to do everything we can to facilitate success for camps, staff, campers, and whoever wants to be at camp.

Q: That’s sounds really exciting! Do you have any final words of encouragement for camps seeking to reach more campers?
DAN: There are so many directions I could take in answering this. First, I want to affirm the work that you, camp staff, do. It is so important and so effective! Keep on striving in your work on behalf of kids. You’re making a difference.

JASON: I completely agree with Dan. Your role is so critical and positive. I think the key is to foster relationships with campers, not only while they are in your care, but also after they have gone home. Campers have an intensely positive experience at camp that can stay with them the rest of their lives. If you can continue to reach out to these kids, I think that’s the best tool to encourage the culture of the camp experience, and they will naturally spread that to others. There is tremendous value in that.

DAN: Also, it might be worth mentioning — since we are in the business of utilizing technology to streamline people’s work — as you look for ways to fund your camp, look at ways that technology can help you get the word out about how exciting your camp is and all the things you’re doing. Make sure that not just parents, but businesses and organizations like the UltraCamp Foundation, can get on board either from a financial standpoint or by creating excitement about camp for other potential funders. Finally, go to the UltraCamp Foundation Web site at http:// foundation.ultracamp.com and apply for the grants so that we can participate in your efforts. Let’s work together to realize the 20/20 Vision and share the joy and benefits of camp with more of the world.

The Daniel and Joelle Ashley Foundation (doing business as The UltraCamp Foundation) is a tax-exempt public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. It exists to provide opportunities for young people, who would otherwise not be able, to experience camping by providing grants to qualifying camps within the United States.

 

Joelle and her husband Dan live in Niles, Michigan, with their two children, Hannah and Josh. She was a camper at Camp Au Sable in Grayling, Michigan, from ages nine to sixteen and a staff member at Mt. Aetna Camp and Retreat Center in Hagerstown, Maryland. Joelle and Dan’s kids are campers now, too!

Jen and her husband Jason have two future campers, Juliana and Alistair. She attended camp as a kid in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Georgia, and spent eight wonderful summers as a counselor and staff member at Mt. Aetna Camp in Hagerstown, Maryland, where she first met Jason, as well as Dan and several other members of the UltraCamp team.

Originally published in the 2013 September/October Camping Magazine. 

Your rating: None Average: 4 (4 votes)
Tags: