AbilityFirst has scored a game-changing $12 million donation from AS&F Foundation, enabling it to create an endowment for its Camp Paivika, a fully accessible camp in the San Bernardino Mountains that provides overnight summer camping and programming for children, teens and adults with disabilities.
An advocacy nonprofit for individuals with developmental disabilities, AbilityFirst has long held a working relationship with AS&F, which is phasing out and donating its remaining balance to eight different nonprofits by 2018. The largest amounts have been awarded to AbilityFirst, the Boy Scouts of America Greater Los Angeles Area Council’s Hubert Eaton Scout Reservation ($10 million), the Los Angeles YMCA ($7 million) and the Braille Institute ($5 million).
The gift to Camp Paivika was announced in front of more than 300 people, including campers, counselors and staff, alumni and supporters at Camp Paivika’s 70th anniversary event. AS&F Foundation Trustees Carol and John Llewellyn presented the check to AbilityFirst CEO Lori Gangemi and camp director Kelly Kunsek.
“We are absolutely overjoyed with this gift from the AS&F Foundation,” Gangemi said. “The endowment will help to provide a resource for sustainability for Camp Paivika so we can continue to help hundreds of individuals each year to make new friends, try new activities and become more independent, all while enjoying a traditional camp experience.”
Established in 1947 as one of the first fully accessible camps in the nation, Camp Paivika has helped tens of thousands of children, teens and adults with disabilities enjoy traditional outdoor camp activities such as swimming, archery, horseback riding and other adaptive sports, all of which are creatively adapted to enable fun and encourage participation.
Campers also enjoy campfires and cookouts, arts and crafts and performing arts such as singing and talent shows at the outdoor amphitheater. Nature building and a “sleeping under the stars” evening also are big hits.
“But really, the best part is just staying up late at night and giggling away with friends … there are a lot of great friendships that form there,” Gangemi said.
Camp Paivika has always followed the axiom “can” and not “can’t” and the staff makes sure that no one is left out. Many campers return year after year, coordinating trips with friends they met on previous stays.
With a 1-1 ratio of campers and staff, plus nursing personnel, the camp also emphasizes the safety and well-being of each camper and meets the medical, dietary, feeding and personal hygiene care and assistance needs of each camper “with respect for the dignity of all,” the camp’s website states.
Llewellyn, also a Pasadena resident, said AS&F focused on gifting larger amounts of money to camps as it winds down its assets.
“We predominantly focused on camps — we really believe that if you take a child out of the city environment and put them up in nature, you can really transform their lives,” Llewellyn said, noting that Ability First received the largest amount.
“Camp Paivika is unique in that it really caters to children and adults with disabilities. It has wonderful, structured programs that enable these individuals to have such an enormous amount of fun, and it gives enormous respace to caregivers and parents, which I think is often overlooked.”
The AS&F Foundation was founded by Hubert Eaton in 1951 as the Forest Lawn Foundation. In 2012, the foundation’s name was changed to AS&F to differentiate it from the nonprofit Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries. Over the years, it has awarded millions of dollars in grants to support transformational camping experiences for disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles County, but it recently decided to distribute assets as a way to provide sustainable change for the nonprofits it had supported.
“We looked at all kinds of research, and we found we could make real, transformative grants to organizations that we have confidence in and that would transform lives,” said Llewellyn, who for years has helped manage the foundation with her husband, John Llewellyn, who also is an AS&F trustee and Eaton’s great-nephew.
An important aspect of Camp Paivika is also the respite it gives families and caregivers of campers, allowing them a break from the rigors and challenges of providing around-the-clock care.
“Raising a child with disabilities has many challenges on different family members … sometimes it’s the only time the parents can spend focused time with their other children, or with each other,” Llewellyn said.
She also noted how much the staff alumni enjoy their jobs and also create lasting friendships among each other. Some of the staff who worked at the camp in the 1960s (and now have gone on to other successful professions around the country) even formed a group that has been critical to fundraising trips for campers, especially after federal funding was cut from the group in 2008.
“Camp Paivika is a special place — not just for campers but for all who are touched by their shared experiences here at camp,” Llewellyn said. “Magic happens at Camp Paivika and we believe this gift will help to ensure that magic continues for many years to come.”
The Camp Paivika Endowment will be used primarily for the upkeep, care, maintenance and replacement of equipment, including any capital projects and operations.
The endowment also will free up fundraising efforts to focus on camper’s assistance, which is costly because of the high staff ratio and accessibility infrastructure, Gangemi said, adding that more than half of the campers are on scholarship.
“What we charge is already less than the actual fee it costs to attend,” she said.
For more information on AbilityFirst or Camp Paivika, visit the websites abilityfirst.org or camppaivika.org.