With COVID-19 and the El Dorado fire of fall 2020 affecting Camp and the personal toll the past year has taken on us all, you need Camp! Keep your spirits up. Hope is on the horizon!
Camp de Benneville Pines continues to be closed to all on-site camps through Summer 2021, however, we hope to begin a “soft” opening of Camp this fall. The health and safety of you, our extended Camp family, will continue to be our first priority. As we monitor the progress of the fight against COVID and the mitigation of the damage from the fire, we hold hope that we will soon be together again on the mountain top.
From the Executive Director and Board
Executive Director Janet James and Camp Dog Daisy Doodle
April 27, 2021
There is no denying that the pandemic has taken us all on a wild ride. And as if the camp closure due to the pandemic wasn’t challenging enough for the staff and board, along came a senseless wildfire—the El Dorado fire—that started in a park at the bottom of the mountain and moved up into the national forest, consuming 23,000 acres of our national forestlands. The fire roared around camp on three sides, burning down to the buildings on the upper camp loop. The flames took about two weeks to reach camp, and eventually petered out once the fire merged with the burn of 5 years ago, on the ridge above camp.
As we turn our attention to repairing, fixing, building, sorting, and cleaning, we are moving in the right direction, inch by inch. One incredible story this season has been the number of Camp supporters who have come up to help fill 10,000 sandbags and get them placed in key locations throughout camp. Volunteers logged over 1500 hours to fill bags, load them in trucks and strategically place them. Under the direction of key board and committee members, we installed straw bales, silt curtains and water filled K rails on the hill behind the camp to “hopefully” redirect any mud and ash flows that will run down the mountainside during heavy rains.
Volunteers have been helping out in other ways too, contributing 4000 hours working on improving our alarm system, installing a weather station at the lodge, sewing curtains, inventorying first aid supplies, cleaning out arts and craft bins, sorting through camp store inventory, staining buildings, working on fire clearance and tree trimming, sorting office files, building supports under every mattress, rehabbing trail lights, staining decks, cabins and picnic tables, sewing COVID masks, working on erosion mitigation plans, raising funds to support camp operations, and making glass hearts to send as thank you gifts to donors. I am sure I left someone, or some project out, so please know that all volunteer efforts are deeply appreciated, especially during this extended closure with loss of camper-fee revenues.
Our fingers are crossed for a soft opening in fall 2021. This means that retreat groups will be smaller due to CDC guidelines and food service will be modified and simplified to meet stricter County guidelines. Although we won’t be operational this summer, we will be offering many opportunities for people to come up and socially distance and work on volunteer projects—we have a lot to accomplish to make camp ready.
I extend my deepest thanks to all who have risen to the challenge and opened their wallets during the COVID closure. We will launch our 60th Anniversary Fundraising Campaign in June 2021, with a goal to raise $350,000 by December 2021. This money will shore up the budget through the end of our fiscal year in March 2022. The need for fundraising to support Operations is a top priority over the next 18 months. It could take up to 20 months or more before the camp is running at capacity.
Special are those of you who give of your time and talents to keep Camp going for those yet to come. You are the heroes of this story. You see what is right and good about the work we do at Camp and you genuinely believe Camp changes lives for the better. Thank you for your continued support through your volunteer efforts at Camp and through your meaningful monetary gifts. All funds raised right now go to keeping our magical mountain top home alive and waiting for campers.
Executive Director, Camp de Benneville Pines
And speaking of “sixty years of Camp de Benneville Pines”, please help us celebrate 60 Years of Love, and join with us for a grand celebration on Saturday, December 4, 2021. First Church San Diego will be the host site for our anniversary party, and we expect to have a grand time celebrating with campers and camp supporters. More to come, so save the date!
As head of the Camp’s Stewardship Committee, I’d like to share with you this three-minute fundraising video put together by a talented volunteer at Orange Coast Church. Although we need to update the snow photos with springtime photos, the message is right on point: For Camp to survive both the COVID closure and the fire, we need intentional fundraising efforts, with the help of our owner churches, to support Camp Operations for the next 18 months. Please continue to show your love.
Chair, 2020/2021 Emergency Fund Drive
December 28, 2020
Dear Friends of Camp de Benneville Pines,
As we roared into 2020, the Board’s focus was on celebrating Janet’s 25 years of devoted service as our executive director to our beloved camp. We were also looking ahead to our 2021 Diamond Jubilee, and plans were underway to celebrate both Janet’s 25th anniversary and the camp’s 60th year of serving the members of the PSWD. But due to the Covid-19 closure, our plans to celebrate Janet’s 25th anniversary have been pushed off to the end of 2021. Once it is safe to do so, we will hold a 25/60 celebration!
Twenty-five years ago, Janet fought to bring camp back from the brink of bankruptcy and to build Crag’s Cabin. Fifteen years later she led the charge to secure our fresh mountain water supply, and we raised the $650,000 needed to install new water lines, modern fire hydrants, a second water tank and pave camp roads. Over the years Janet has spearheaded a number of projects including updating the cabins and lodge. Her biggest legacy has been the growth of our business, booking every weekend and summer weeklong space. We are so grateful for Janet’s dedication to the growth of de Benneville Pines over the years, and for her willingness to put Camp first. Janet is famous for saying that both she and de Benneville Pines have flourished over the years, and yet we recognize that without her sacrifice, we would not have a camp to love and care for today.
Camp’s calendar has been busy over the past several years. Every summer week or school-year weekend is filled with camps for youth, families, and adults, along with congregational retreats and unaffiliated groups such as Camp Bravo, Society for Creative Anachronism, ACA PineCon and Daughters of Diana, (to name a few). It is a testament to Janet and her staff that these unaffiliated groups have become friends to camp and return year after year. They have actually become an integral and important part of our extended camp-family.
The Covid-19 pandemic landed in our lives with such fierceness that we are only now beginning to believe we can return to some type of normalcy during 2021. The board decided in March 2020 to cancel all in-person camps until it is safe to bring people together in community. The last thing we want to do is share Covid-19 with one another.
This September, the El Dorado Fire raged through the southern ridge above Camp, burning the remaining green belt left after the Lake Fire five years ago. The hotshot crews saved all of our structures. They told us that our effective clearing of ground fuels was critical to their ability to save the camp. Additionally, we had 120,000 gallons of stored water in our tanks that provided them with a local water source for firefighting. Our deepest thanks to those volunteers who helped with fire clearance in summer 2020 and for those who donated to the WaterWorks! Campaign–enabling us to more-than-double our water storage capacity.
In March 2020 we started fundraising for the COVID-19 Emergency Campaign with the goal to raise $600,000 in contributions over 18 months. It was thought that these funds would sustain minimal staff/camp operations over a 12-month period. In September, after it was clear that the El Dorado fire had left the camp in danger of mud and ash flows into our structures, this goal was raised to $850,000 to encompass the work needed to install straw bales, silt fencing, k rails and sandbags–the critical erosion mitigation work required to direct ash and mud flows away from buildings. The leadership secured an SBA loan and received PPP funds. Sadly, since running out of the PPP money, most employees have been laid off. We searched for FEMA and other emergency grants that might support us during our crisis, but none of these efforts have propelled us forward in a way that would save the camp. Only YOUR giving hearts and helping hands have been able to meet this challenge.
You who stepped up to give, and kept giving, have managed to keep the camp afloat while we have had no income; and you who have shown up to do fire clearance and fill sandbags are truly the stewards and heroes of de Benneville Pines. We are humbled by the depth of your response. As I write this letter today, we have raised over $460,000 (including matching funds). Since we still have a few days left in 2020, that number is bound to grow higher! Clearly, we are more than halfway to our goal.
With nine months remaining to meet our goal of raising $850,000, I feel strongly we will rally once again in 2021 to meet the challenge and to raise the final $390,000.
From the bottom of our hearts, we send you good wishes for the New Year and hope that you and your loved ones will stay safe and healthy. From the staff, executive director and the board, we thank you for including the Camp in your giving plan for 2020.
Happy Holidays, keep staying safe, now more then ever.
Hope is on our Horizon!
2021 Emergency Fund Drive Chair for the Board of Directors Camp de Benneville Pines
December 1, 2020Help Support Camp!
October 6, 2020
To put it frankly, our UU camp on the mountain top has been hit hard this year and is in trouble. All on site events have been canceled through March 31, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The aftermath of the El Dorado Fire damage and the seriousness of the pandemic could require further delays to reopening in our future.
We are so grateful for the heroic efforts of the fire crews that fought hard to keep the El Dorado Fire from burning the entire forest, and a great big thank you to San Bernardino County Strike Team 6231 Charlie. Under the leadership of Fire Captain Jett Schuster, they worked tirelessly to save the buildings and structures of our beloved camp. It was a battle!
Join us in honoring Charles Edward Morton of the Big Bear Hot Shot crew, who sacrificed his life fighting to protect the forest, wildlife, and people who live upon the mountain top and in surrounding communities. His heroic story and the stories of others will continue to inspire us. We almost lost our camp because of this fire, and had it not been for the work of our staff and volunteers performing fire clearance duties throughout the summer, we surely would have. And yet, we need to do better. We need to have more people help each season to rake pine needles and trim low hanging limbs in camp. If we are to have a camp to bequeath to our children’s children, then preserving what we have is imperative. And that takes many helping hands.
We are also grateful for the outpouring of love we have received during this difficult and scary time. Your concern and encouragement means everything to those who serve on the camp’s Board of Directors. Your warm thoughts are uplifting reminders to staff that you appreciate their efforts to take care of your mountain home. Please continue to send healing thoughts and good words of appreciation to our devoted staff as they navigate through all the added responsibilities that come with the fire aftermath. Without a forest on the hill behind camp, preparing camp for the inevitable water and mudflow is extremely important. The staff members are working daily with volunteers to fill sandbags and get them placed in strategic spots to divert water around buildings. In addition, they are preparing for winterizing the buildings and getting the snow equipment out and ready.
We must now address our newest threat to Camp’s existence—flooding into camp buildings and roads. It is a big task, and preparing for the worst case of ash and mudflow into the camp will be costly. Initial estimates are around $250,000. Our wellhead can potentially get buried under mudflow, and without the forest duff and vegetation behind our camp the cabins are at risk of being flooded. This puts the existence of your sacred space in the mountains in jeopardy once again. To this end, the COVID-19 Emergency Fund Drive shifts now to do double duty and has been renamed Camp’s 2020/2021 Emergency Fund Drive. The fund drive will continue to seek donations to cover operational expenses and will now also need to raise money to help pay for fire and water flow mitigation. Additionally, we shall apply for grant funds to help offset the costs of erosion and flood mitigation.
I want to take a moment and express how grateful we are for the contributions raised during the first seven months of the COVID-19 Emergency Fund Drive — over $250,000 of our original $600,000 goal have been raised. We were on track to raise $600,000 over 18 months, but that goal has been modified to encompass the funding needed for the flood and erosion mitigation.
We will need everyone’s help at all levels to reach our new goal of $850,000. We are moving ahead with filling and placing upwards of 6,000 sandbags in strategic areas around our compound. Other, larger erosion prevention projects will need to be approved by the County and USFS before the work begins.
What can YOU do now? Volunteer your time to come up for a day to fill sandbags, rake, clean gutters, and place wood chips on the burned hill next to Craig’s Cabin. Donate what you can. Talk to everyone you know who loves our camp. Ask them to log onto our website and DONATE NOW. Between September 1st and December 31st, 2020, all funds donated will be matched to the level of $100,000. So do not think for a moment that a modest financial gift will not make a difference! Every penny makes a huge difference in reaching our goal.
May Camp de Benneville Pines continue to be blessed by your continued support of love and outreach, and your contributions of money and time.
Chair, 2020/2021 Emergency Fund Drive
August 23, 2020
The health and safety of the extended camp family is our top priority. While keeping this goal in focus, the board and camp staff are also focused on the long-term financial viability of Camp de Benneville Pines. Our Camp family includes all those who work year-round to make camp the thriving organization it has been for many years, including campers, volunteers, staff, vendors, and everyone visiting our mountain retreat.
After much deliberation, the decision of the board and executive director is to keep Camp closed until Jan 1st, 2021. Consideration has been given to opening summer camps with limited attendance, offering adult camps with limited attendance, providing testing and screening services, and many more ideas. At this time, none of the options considered have been deemed viable, given the safety and financial constraints of the ongoing pandemic. Re-opening of camp will be reviewed at each board of directors meeting scheduled every two months. The re-opening date could be moved out in time but will not be moved forward. Re-opening Camp will require significant planning and lead-time; therefore, any resumption of camp activities will be announced at least three months in advance.
Camp maintenance and improvement activities are continuing with limited staff. Anyone wishing to support camp by attending small, properly distanced, onsite workgroups may do so by contacting Janet James, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Camp activities will resume when it is generally accepted that it is safe to do so. Many factors will be considered in deciding to start scheduling camps. First and foremost, will be the ability of camp to provide a safe and healthy environment for our camp family. This will include taking guidance from UUA, local congregations, and local, state, and federal governments. Also considered will be the availability of improved screening protocols, improved treatment options, and the availability of a vaccine.
The camp board continues to fundraise to cover fixed costs and reduced payroll during this time of closure. Please DONATE NOW to support your camp during this financially difficult time.
Until we can all be safely together again up at Camp, please stay well, take good care of each other, and know that Camp misses you.
Camp de Benneville Pines Board of Directors and Executive Director
June 16, 2020
COVID-19 has changed our lives in so many ways. Who knows when things will return to normal?
Returning to Camp one day may mean wearing masks and following social distancing practices. It may mean smaller camps so that people are not sleeping so closely together. It will look different, that is certain. And at least for now, many people are still reticent about venturing out from home and are committed to socially distancing to protect themselves and others from the COVID virus.
Our challenge going forward will be to hold onto a place that is so dear to so many. One day when we can return to “normalcy” we will hunger to be at our camp in community—to hug, to laugh, to share, and to care together. When the day arrives when we can come out from behind our masks, we do not want to find that de Benneville Pines does not exist for us, for our children and grandchildren. What a great loss that would be on top of so many other losses.
The camp’s fixed costs are running about $50,000 a month, and that is with reduced staffing. We expect those costs to drop once we have finished refurbishing the cabins, but it is important to maintain baseline staff, so we don’t lose our operational memory. The process of reopening to full camps may take some time. People will need to find their way back into society and to camp, and it could take a few years before we can generate enough income to break even again.
To this end, our stewardship committee will soon launch a campaign to raise $600,000 to support camp operations. This money will enable the camp to limp along for upwards of 18 months, by which time we should know what the new normal is going to be. Gulp, $600,000! This goal might seem utterly ridiculous to some, but in my view, it is critical to weathering the COVID storm. Whether you believe we should all hold up in our homes until there is a vaccine or believe we need to re-enter cautiously back into society, both scenarios impact Camp. And the bottom line for de Benneville Pines is this: without a vigorous and continual revenue stream from camp rentals, we must fundraise to survive.
It will take churches, campers, non-campers, lease groups, grants, gifts, Facebook asks, Faithify asks, and creative thinking and doing to reach $600,000…but we are called to try and try we must. A major push to find lead gifts is going on right now. If you have the capacity to be a lead contributor, please contact Pat Gordon at email@example.com or Janet James at firstname.lastname@example.org. We need to hear from you. And please watch your mailbox for our appeal letter with a return envelope. Your participation on any level will be critical to the success of the camp’s emergency campaign. You can also find a DONATE NOW button on this web page and on the menu ribbon at the top of each web page.
Together we can ensure that our beloved camp continues its legacy of building community, preserving our environment, encouraging life-long growth, and changing the world for the better for generations to come. From the mountain top to your house, I wish you well.
Executive Director, Camp de Benneville Pines
For ongoing updates and Camp de Benneville Pines news, visit What's New
June 6, 2020
I hope this day finds you well and safe. Along with your concerns, the Covid-19 pandemic has weighed heavy on my mind for months. I have remained hopeful that the situation would stabilize by summer, and Camp would be full of the smiles and joyful voices of young people reveling in the long tradition of shared times up on the mountain top. Today, however, I must announce the cancellation of our 2020 Summer UU Youth and Family Camps.
I have been in discussions with the camp board and camping ministries leadership. These heartfelt talks, along with current information from health experts and local regulators, make it clear that we cannot hold camps this summer while the Covid virus is still so active in our society.
Camp de Benneville Pines has been and continues to be a special place to generations of UUs and friends. The closure of summer youth and family camps is sure to be an immense disappointment to everyone, but especially so for our youth who have been looking forward to summer camp 2020 since saying goodbye last summer. As we explore ideas for virtual and on-line activities, we will keep you updated.
While we listen to the missing in our hearts over the loss of summer camp, we must also be thinking about how Camp de Benneville Pines will make it through this financial crisis. The answer is the same as it has been for decades – we will make it through with the determination, perseverance, and hard work of the camp community. The closure of summer Camp is a momentous financial blow that threatens our long-term existence, yet I am confident that you and others, who so profoundly love Camp, will preserve this sacred place by supporting it financially.
We have set up a COVID-19 Emergency Fund Drive to help us through this time of diminished revenue. The actions taken, and the money raised, in this next year are critical to ensuring that Camp de Benneville Pines will reopen one day. Next year marks Camp’s 60th anniversary serving the youth and families of the PSWD. With a collective-will, we can ensure the magic and memories of Camp de Benneville Pines will be here for many more generations to come.
Executive Director, Camp de Benneville Pines