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Camp Kiwanilong Scores A Helping Hand With Repairs


Daily Astorian

On Saturday, the old saying, “What goes around comes around,” will be proven.

On so many levels.

It all starts with a disc golf tournament at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds. And it all ends with children finding comfort and solace under a shelter at Camp Kiwanilong.

In 1936, a 287-acre site on Southwest Ridge Road south of Fort Stevens State Park became a Kiwanis camp. Filled with trees and a long lake, aptly named Long Lake, the camp became known as Camp Kiwanilong.

Now, the camp is owned by the county and an independent board of directors leases the property for $1 a year and operates it as a nonprofit organization.

Every week, from late June through early August, camps are scheduled for youngsters in the third through ninth grades. Thousands of youngsters have spent countless hours there, singing songs around a campfire, swimming, canoeing, hiking, making crafts, eating home-cooked meals, playing soccer – everything campers can do in a weeklong camp.

The older kids who already show leadership qualities may apply to become counselors and undergo training for two summers. Those who complete the training and pass the interview process may finally be selected to mentor the younger campers.

Ask anyone who went to camp during the past 30 years or so, and they will remember “Sparky,” aka Deborah Vail, the camp director, until her retirement two years ago. Now, she’s the chairwoman of the camp’s board of directors.

“Being at the camp is like stepping into the past,” Vail said.

No electronics of any kind – especially cell phones – are allowed at the camp. Thirteen cabins have no electricity or water. Clocks are set back an hour so campers, who have been active all day, settle into one of the cabins early in the evening, to listen to a story told by a counselor. Then it’s lights out.

But the counselors know that the youngest children, who may never have spent a night in the woods before, could be scared. Every evening until 11 p.m., two counselors station themselves at the Pioneer Shelter, just outside of the cabins, ready to console a child who might seek comfort. After 11 p.m., each counselor bunks in one of the cabins, just to be on hand in the middle of the night.

But the shelter needs help. When hurricane-force winds struck the North Coast in December 2007, a tree fell on the roof, causing damage. The structure also needs a new floor, a back wall and a fireplace to provide warmth on chilly nights.

It’s a project that has been delayed, but now it’s a project being taken on by this year’s Lower Columbia Ford Institute Leadership team.

Composed of 25 to 32 members of local businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, the leadership team spends a year learning the skills to become effective community leaders. To practice those skills, they work on a project that will benefit the local area.

“We have them brainstorm about which projects they would like to do,” said Gary Stewart, director of Leadership Services for the Rural Development Initiative, which partners with the Family Ford Foundation to organize the leadership program.

“They evaluate the suggestions, do research and use a variety of tools to narrow it down to one project.”

This is the third year that the Ford Family Foundation has sponsored a leadership institute in Clatsop County. A five-year program, the institute invites individuals to be part of the leadership groups in the first, third and fifth years. During the second year, board members for local nonprofits develop their leadership skills, and in the fourth year, graduates from the leadership classes and members of the organizations collaborate with other community members on a project.

“So often people put their hands on their hips and say, ‘Somebody ought to do something about this,” said Mary Blake, director of the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District and a member of this year’s leadership team. “This program teaches us how we can all do it together.”

So far, 76 communities in Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif. have participated in the leadership programs, graduating 4,000 members since 2003.

“We want to build vital rural communities in Oregon,” said Stewart. “To do that, we offer leadership training to help individuals and organizations, and our goal has been to have them build relationships within their communities so they can learn how to work well together and how to identify projects to work on.”

The Ford Family Foundation was begun by Kenneth W. Ford, who owned Roseburg Forest Products Co., one of the largest, family-owned wood products manufacturers in the nation. Ford started his company in 1936 – the same year that Camp Kiwanilong sprouted in the woods of the North Coast.

Two years ago, those who were members of the Ford Institute Leadership Program in Clatsop County took on a project: They created a disc golf course on the county fairgrounds.

This year, the new leadership team will conduct an 18-hole tournament on that course to raise funds to renovate the Pioneer Shelter at Camp Kiwanilong.

A doubles tournament begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and singles at 1:30 p.m. Cost is $10 per person for adults and $5 for kids.

“We’ll have fun, but we’ll also support an important and necessary effort,” Blake said.

If people wish to donate, but they don’t want to throw a Frisbee at a goal and hope it comes around and slides into the basket in hopes of making a birdie or even par, there are other ways to contribute to the effort.

Materials and services can be donated, and cash can be dropped into one of the jars placed on counters at local stores. Checks can be sent to Camp Kiwanilong at PO Box 128, Warrenton, OR 97146. Be sure to note that the money is going to the Pioneer Shelter renovation. Donations may be tax-deductible.

“What makes this project so beautiful is that it’s really shining a light on how much influence everyone – former camp counselors, carpenters, those who helped build the disc golf course – can have on such a great project,” Blake said.

This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.