They’re on a mission to save Sensory Camp

‘Blues mothers’ have chosen to accept funding challenge

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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How to help

• To make a donation: The Parks Foundation of Clark County is accepting donations on behalf of the camp. Call 360-487-8370 or visit http://parksfoundation.us/support/donate. Be sure to specify the money is for the Summer Sensory Camp.

• On Facebook: Visit the Save the Sensory Camp page.

• Questions? Call Alice Rolfe at 360-921-2143.

The moms trying to save the city of Vancouver’s Summer Sensory Camp -- canceled last month as part of $1.2 million in budget cuts -- know that raising $30,000 in 30 days sounds a lot like the plot of “The Blues Brothers.”

“We’re the ‘blues mothers,’” quipped Beth Pederson on Friday, as she and four other women gathered in east Vancouver to describe their plans to rescue the metro area’s only camp for autistic and other special-needs children.

The camp, they say, is the only outlet in the summer where their kids are safe and also totally included. After hearing it was chopped, a large group of parents did the one thing they could think of -- take action.

“It’s the place he can be himself -- he’s not made fun of, he’s not teased,” said Sara Brandon of her son Hunter, 7, who attends the camp. “I don’t think (the city) realized how much of an impact the program had on families.

Vancouver has offered the camp since 2009 and serves more than 50 families of kids whose autism is severe enough to require one-on-one attention, and who generally find the larger camps open to all children overwhelming.

But the Summer Fun Sensory Camp, for ages 6 to 12, had just a 38 percent cost recovery to the city: Vancouver spent $78,015 to provide it in 2011, and brought in $29,347.

A group of parents met Tuesday with City Manager Eric Holmes and parks officials to talk about options.

And what came out of it was a commitment from the city to work side-by-side with the group to help find ways to save the camp.

“I very, very much appreciate the proactive way they stepped forward in a constructive way to bring new ideas and new thinking, because that’s what it’s going to take to have long-term sustainability for these kinds of programs,” Holmes said.

Along with likely adding $30 to the $146 weekly fee, the parents have set a goal to raise $30,000 by the end of May -- exactly what it would take to cover the expected shortfall.

They’re planning on selling bracelets proclaiming “Sensory Camp Rocks!” and “I love someone with autism” for $6 on their Facebook page, in front of stores, and at the Vancouver Farmers Market.

They’re canvassing businesses for donations of the money and about $4,500 worth of supplies the camp needs. A benefit concert is in the works. The Parks Foundation of Clark County is taking donations on their behalf.

Vancouver has appealed to the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington for a grant, and is looking to apply for other opportunities to save both the sensory camp and other recreation programs it had to cut.

“We’re still brainstorming (ways to raise money), but we’re starting out with the thing we have on hand now,” said April Sutherland, whose son Liam, 11, has attended the camp every summer that it’s been available. “We appreciate the way Parks and Recreation is helping us. The staff is all very heartfelt and supportive.”

Even if they don’t make their $30,000 goal, Sutherland said they may cut the first two weeks of the camp and make other cuts to make ends meet.

It’s a tough goal, the moms acknowledged, but it’s one they’re positive they can meet.

“I think it’s all going to trickle in,” Pederson said. “I don’t see how we can fail.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_cityhall; andrea.damewood@columbian.com.