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Community

Hidden Villa’s Summer Camp breaks down barriers, creates bonds


Photo By: Courtesy of Laurie Aubuchon
Photo Courtesy Of Laurie Aubuchon

Children participating in Hidden Villa’s Summer Camp programs learn the values – and joys – of gardening.

When Hidden Villa founders Frank and Josephine Duveneck noticed the social injustices occurring in the community in 1945, they didn’t turn the other cheek – they sprang into action.

Nearly seven decades later, the fruits of the Duvenecks’ programs to address social and environmental justice can be seen at Hidden Villa’s Summer Camp, which brings together children from diverse backgrounds to break down social barriers and build lasting bonds.

“Josephine, in particular, had a distaste for the racism she found in her community and wanted to address that,” said Nikki Bryant, Hidden Villa’s Summer Camp director. “Her idea was that if we were to bring children of different races together, then we could get them past the injustices she was seeing.”

The purpose of the camp hasn’t changed much since its founding 67 years ago. Known as the first multiracial summer camp on the Pacific Coast, it offers campers opportunities to experience a range of activities, including working on Hidden Villa’s animal farm, gardening and learning wilderness appreciation and stewardship.

Along the way, most campers find common ground through those shared experiences, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or other societal factors.

“The typical idea of what we think of a summer camp, that does happen here,” Bryant said. “Those … experiences are the types of things that really nurture a child and give them opportunities to have shared experiences.”

Campers participate in reflection periods and discuss topics such as race, class, gender equality, family types and bullying. In other instances, campers are asked to share stories about their lives.

“The purpose, and what I think a lot of the kids experience, is that they’re not alone in any of the thoughts or struggles that they encounter in their lives,” said Tenaya Schnare, a former summer camp staff member currently serving as Hidden Villa’s development associate. “It’s from peers from really different backgrounds, so they hear about really different struggles, but they’re also able to relate and find common ground.”

Hidden Villa offers camp scholarships annually to economically disadvantaged families, helping to offset camp costs, which can range up to $1,000 per child. Last year, the program provided $165,000 in scholarships, through funding from organizations like the Town Crier Holiday Fund.

And while several aspects of society may have changed since 1945, Bryant added, Hidden Villa’s Summer Camp remains a reflection of Josephine Duveneck’s original vision.

“She had a lot of people saying that it wouldn’t work,” Bryant said, “and she proved them wrong.”

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