- Published on Tuesday, 27 June 2006 20:49
- Written by Ali Abdollahi - Special to the Town Crier
After an emotional meeting Thursday that lasted several hours, the Hidden Villa Board of Directors approved a 2007 budget that includes the suspension of its 12-day residential summer camp program and a staff reduction of 19 percent.
Board Chairman Tom Livermore said before the vote that the 2007 budget had to be cut by $350,000 and that the only way to do that was to reduce staff and adjust programs.
"Hidden Villa is what we call land rich and cash poor," he said of the preserve's 1,600 acres donated by Josephine and Frank Duveneck. "We simply don't have the cash in reserve to continue in our current direction, and it would be irresponsible of the board to allow that to occur."
Executive Director Beth Ross said that, in recent years, Hidden Villa has been evaluating programs and expanding development staff, hoping that this would add funding by bringing in more campers and improving fund raising. Instead, she said, those efforts increased Hidden Villa's operating costs without achieving significantly more revenue.
Livermore and Ross choked back tears as they discussed the necessity for staff reductions.
"Unfortunately, our plan for making Hidden Villa sustainable in years to come involves letting go of some amazing staff members who have brought incredible knowledge and expertise to Hidden Villa," said Ross. "And while there are many sentimental appeals to save Hidden Villa's 12-day summer camp, my job is to keep the whole operation going."
Hidden Villa will be able to continue most of its other 2007 school and community partnerships and can afford a modified residential camp next summer.
A number of concerned community members attended the meeting to oppose suspension of the camps. It would be only the second time the camps have closed since they began in 1945.
"To terminate these camps would be a huge mistake," said Ann Warren Smith, executive director at Hidden Villa from 1985 to 1993.
A group of former Hidden Villa campers and counselors are appealing to camp alumni and the public to help save the camps. The group successfully gathered more than $15,000 in pledges during a recent 11-day drive, and expressed concern that the board was not doing everything in its power to save the program.
"The board voted as part of the budget approval to continue trying to raise funds to save the camp," said Shana Barchas, who spent nine summers as a Hidden Villa camper and counselor. "But who's going to raise those funds - us kids? I know for a fact that there are people who donated $40,000 two years ago who were not even contacted for help during the current crisis.
"This camp is what made me the person I am today, and I'm afraid that now it's gone forever."