Three teens hang out on the shady porch of the dining hall before lunch.

EHC Rises Again: An Update from Our Biggest Teen Session Ever

Our official #RebuildEHC Volunteer Day is October 6, 2018. Join us on the first anniversary of the fires at EHC by signing up, pitching in and laying the groundwork for years to come. Contact aferrari@lighthouse-sf.org to sign up.

Sitting next to the lake and surveying the 311-acre grounds of Enchanted Hills Camp, you might never know that just last October, a fire tore through parts of camp and damaged more than 20 structures, big and small. It was a trying time, but despite the fires, this summer’s recovered camp has never been more vibrant.

We just wrapped up the largest teen camp session ever, and 64 teens spread out across lower and upper camp — learning karate in the Kiva, playing Monopoly in the dining hall, braiding friendship bracelets in the Hogan, woodworking in the Art Barn, riding horses along the nature trails and fishing on the lake.

But to look a little closer, you’d find that things aren’t quite the same as in previous summers. After eight months of hard work, we reopened Enchanted Hills for a full 2018 summer and offered almost every session that generations have come to love since the camp opened in 1950. And despite challenges, upgrades to EHC have it looking better than ever.

Tony Fletcher, Director of EHC, reflects on this summer season. “Watching the adult campers, family campers and youth campers enjoy themselves so much and adapt to the modifications we have had to make to run camp this summer, reinforced my belief that the show must go on,” he says. Tony, who started working at LightHouse in 1989, just celebrated his 29th year of working in the blindness community. “There’s no way I could let a summer go by without us operating.”

So, what are some of the modifications? After the loss of the 10 cabins in lower camp that housed 120 campers and counselors, we knew we would have to find a swift and safe solution if we wanted to hold summer camp. Enter the Sweetwater Bungalows.

With their durable wooden frames, and breathable waterproof white canvas walls, the eight bungalows provide a sturdy and airy structure for a variety of weather conditions. The bungalows are eco-friendly and off the grid; we installed solar panels, which enable the bungalows to light up at night. One of the biggest adjustments for our campers has been the lack of plugs in their sleeping quarters to charge their mobile devices. What the bungalows lack in electricity, however, they gain in proximity to the pool and Dining Hall compared to the original lower camp structures.

The lakeside cabins got spruced up, too. Although they did not burn, thick smoke permeated the walls, windows and furniture. The cabins have new paint, bedding, flooring and windows. For the first time, some of our youth slept in the lakeside cabins so that we could hold the same number of campers in 2018 as we hosted in 2017.

One of the other concerns after the fire was the loss of habitats for the animals who live at camp. A lot of work went into removing weeds and brush and we continue to remove many of the trees that were charred in the fire, so that all those who live at EHC, animal and human, will have a safe place to live. We’ve even added new animals to camp. Two donkeys, Citizen and Quill, now keep company with our goats Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher, who were rescued during the fires by the Napa Community Animal Response Team.

Many of the changes are less structural and more to express the spirit of community and fun that has gone into the rebuild. On the maroon fence that surrounds the swimming pool in lower camp there are large yellow plastic dots that spell out “Swimmin Pool” in Braille lettering. There is no letter G, but there is a cluster of dots forming a happy face to welcome you to the pool. Signs are up all along the roads thanking counselors and Americorps members for their contributions, and brightly colored flower pots are speckled throughout the gardens, right from Donald Sirkin’s own estate.

LightHouse Social Media Specialist Christina Daniels looks at a new bright yellow braille sign on the pool fence that reads 'Swimmin' Pool.'
LightHouse Social Media Specialist Christina Daniels looks at a new bright yellow braille sign on the pool fence that reads ‘Swimmin’ Pool.’

Another new addition to is one you can hear as you drive into upper camp. Outside the dining hall sit two PowerShowdown tables. Part table tennis and part air hockey, the object of the game is to bat the ball off the side wall, along the table, under the center screen, and into the opponent’s goal. All players wear sleep shades, making this a great game for blind and sighted people to play together. Chris Keenan, owner of Keenan’s Cabinets of Distinction, makes the tables. He and his wife Kelly personally drove to EHC to deliver them and took a mini-vacation at the newly reopened camp.

Working to rebuild EHC has involved careful prioritization of which buildings to reconstruct first. Next up is the tractor barn, as it will hold tools to reconstruct future buildings. Constructing a pool shade structure and bath house with improved showers and bathrooms also tops the list.

The combined work of PG&E, FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA ensured EHC was safe after the fires. After that, volunteer organizations moved in to help with the cleanup, and continue to volunteer.

Individuals have also volunteered their time, including neighbors in the surrounding Mt. Veeder area, and we are organizing a special day where the EHC community can come together to help in the rebuilding efforts. A year after the fires, we will have a Community Volunteer Day on October 6. Allyson Ferrari, Volunteer Engagement Specialist, says, “I’m really excited for this day because it’s going to be an excellent opportunity to bring our community together and contribute in our efforts to rebuild, so that camp remains a cornerstone for many generations to come.” For more information about the EHC Community Volunteer Day, contact Allyson at aferrari@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7320.

Besides volunteering, you can donate to help #RebuildEHC in several ways. You can visit our donation page, use your mobile device to text REBUILDEHC to 501-55 or contact Jennifer Sachs at 415-694-7333 or jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org, and tell her you want to help “Rebuild EHC”. Without hundreds of people working thousands of hours, EHC 2018 summer season would not have been possible. We are grateful for the outpouring of support.

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