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Napa fires

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.

Enchanted Hills Camp Back with a Full Camp Schedule for the 2018 Season

In a normal year, applications for Summer at Enchanted Hills Camp would open on February 1. We were determined not to miss out on Summer 2018 at EHC after the October wildfires. This year, after lots of hard work, creative thinking and tremendous support from our community, we will open applications for a contiguous, full Summer season at Enchanted Hills on February 7.

The truth is, the Enchanted Hills Family could not allow the tragedy of the Napa fires to rob our community of the experience of having a place for fun, understanding, family, independence and a place to unplug, tune into the joys of nature and gain confidence like nowhere else. Enchanted Hills is an experience that so many look forward to having every year — and though our camp is now operating only in upper and middle camp, we’ve taken steps to enrich this summer so that all campers will still enjoy the beauty of our location safely and with a supportive staff.

This weekend, EHC will reopen to the community that makes it what it is. There are still lots of ways to help, and we know you’ll have lots of questions, so please read on, and enjoy this special issue of LightHouse Lately in celebration of what will no doubt be known as a landmark summer for Enchanted Hills Camp. You will note that our offerings in 2018 will be almost exactly the same as we offered last year, thanks to our dedicated staff and community. Visit our website for expanded descriptions of each session.

EHC Summer 2018 Schedule

Cycle for Sight – April 21
Blind Babies Family Camp – June 15 to June 17
Adult Session – June 22 to June 27
Adults w/ Developmental Disability Session – June 28 to July 3
Family Camp I – July 5 to July 8
Youth Session – July 9 to July 15
Teen Session – July 19 to July 28
Family Camp II – August 1 to August 4
Music Camp – August 6 to August 12
Woodworking for the Blind: Fundamental/Beginner – August 13 to August 18
Woodworking for the Blind: Advanced – August 20 to August 25

What to expect

Below, we’ve answered some basic questions about what to expect in 2018 and how the summer camp season will be different, including answering your questions about health and safety.

Q: How is camp going to be different?

A: With the old cabins and bathhouses in lower camp gone,  all campers will spend the session in housing closer to upper camp, which provides safe and easy access to facilities as lower camp is in the process of being rebuilt.

We’re hard at work with some delightful and surprising options for our overnight campers. Some may rival our old 1950s cabins in beauty and cleanliness. Upper camp remains in great condition, and we’ll do all we can to maximize the camp experience in the areas that were not burned by the fire. Thanks to the hard work of Americorps and EHC site staff, a large portion of camp is not only usable, but in great shape and ready for summer activities.

Q: Is it safe to be at camp?

A: Yes. Over the past three months, we have taken every precaution to ensure that the camp environment is safe and healthy to inhabit. Working with PG&E, FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, we have removed burned structures, hazardous materials and continue daily work to return camp to its natural state. We’ve received sign-offs on our water supply, ttree program and smoke remediation. Every guest will sleep on new beds, mattresses and linens and camp is in process of being repainted and upgraded. We are proud to be able to offer a contiguous camp season in 2018 without compromising the health and safety of our community.

Q: Does camp have a reduced capacity due to the fire?

A: Slightly – but we will make it work. We are taking every step necessary to reapportion staff and students such that priority is giving to summer 2018 campers. You may want to get your registration in early, though, because with all the attention on Enchanted Hills this past fall, camp may be even more popular than ever. We expect to host the same number of campers in 2018  as we hosted last summer.

Q: Where will I sleep?

A: For adult sessions and family camps, your regular accommodations in the lodge, lakesides or 11a and B will be exactly the same, though with brand-new beds and other amenities. For many of our youth, we will also utilize upper camp to help with our housing needs. Several dozen youth may get to experience some luxury lodging in the form of ‘glamping’ yurts set in nature in mid-camp.

Q: I’m not a camper – but I’d like to help! What can I do?

A: Financial donations are still our greatest need [link] at Enchanted Hills. We estimate that our insurance will only pay 30 to 40 percent of the eventual cost of a rebuilt Enchanted Hills. There are many expenses that go into putting on a modified camp season, including scholarships and financial aid for students, which can greatly benefit from your donations. If you’d like to support us as we prepare to get camp back up and running, please donate to our Rebuild effort.

We anticipate that we’ll need waves of volunteers to help with environmental restoration of our beautiful camp. Everything from removing invasive post-fire weeds to replanting with native species, from beautifying trails to general carpentry. Contact Allyson Ferrari at aferrari@lighthouse-sf.org if you’re interested in helping out. If you’re interested in contributing in other ways, please contact camp director Tony Fletcher tfletcher@lighthouse-sf.org or development director Jennifer Sachs at jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org.

Essay: A blind camper on why Enchanted Hills Camp is important

After the fires at Enchanted Hills Camp, we were flooded with kind words and fond memories from campers throughout our 68 years of operation. In honor of the many memories we all share from Enchanted Hills Camp, as we get ready to rise from the ashes, we’ll be publishing regular stories from campers and members of the EHC Community on our blog. Here’s the first in a series of three, by longtime camper Maycie Vorreiter.

Summer’s Finest Moments: An EHC Reflection

By Maycie Vorreiter

“I want to wake up at Enchanted Hills, where the songbird sings “hello”. And the sun comes a creepin, into where I’m sleepin’, and the redwoods whisper low. I wanna wander through the wild woods, where the rippling waters flow. And come trickling back to Enchanted Hills, to the camp that we love so!”

– Enchanted Hills Camp theme song

My introduction into the world of Enchanted Hills camp, (EHC) began at the age of six, when I attended my first family camp. It was my first time meeting other blind people, kids and adults alike, though at that time, I only remember the kids. The first activity I did was boating. My Dad, brothers and I all got into a paddle boat and paddled around the pristine lake. I didn’t know then how big a part of my life EHC would become. Every year I was pulled back, both by my excitement to see everyone I’d met the year before, to meet new people and to do so many of the activities I enjoyed; arts and crafts, boating, horseback riding, swimming, and later, OJ Radio.

EHC is where many bonds have been created, and today, those bonds are stronger than ever. I met my best friend of twelve years at my second family camp. At first she didn’t want to talk to me because she thought that I was a boy, but that’s another story for another time. We used to love running up and down the ramps of the Lakeside cabins, mostly because of the clattering sound our canes made as they rattled over the planks.

In 2007 at the age of nine, I attended my first youth camp, along with my best friend, who was scared initially. Somehow, I managed to talk her into going, and I will never forget that first no parent camp experience because it was my first time being away from home by myself. Two memories from that week stand out to me. The first happened one night when all the counselors in our cabin (we were in the Shoshone cabin) left for what was probably a staff meeting. I was attempting to fall asleep, but I couldn’t. It was too quiet, and something about how silent it was just made me start laughing. I tried to stop because I knew someone would tell us that we needed to be quiet, but I couldn’t. Soon, the rest of my cabin mates were laughing, and I’d say we laughed for a good five minutes before a counselor came in and said, “You’d better stop, or I’m gonna put you all in separate cabins.” Instant silence.

The second memory from my first youth one session took place near the end of that week. We were all gathered near where the campfires were held, and we were told we would be making a time capsule. A Perkins brailler was passed around, and we were given sheets of paper. What I wrote that night I cannot recall, but I know that whatever it was was a page long. Many years from now, I hope to read that again.

Every year new memories were made, every year new counselors came and went. Every year new activities were added, such as woodworking, new people were met and EHC found it’s way into my heart, where it always will be. What makes EHC special are the campfires, hay rides, (typically at the end of family camp) talent shows (where I performed many times) campers, staff, activities. What makes EHC the place to be is the laughter, the music, hanging out with new friends and old friends, and the wishes that everyone makes at the end of a youth session closing campfire.

I’d like to conclude with a memory that, as of this writing, happened just a few months ago. Just two months before the fire. In August, I attended Music Academy for the first time, and this was one of the best sessions I’ve attended. On the evening of the EHC performance, I stood on the stage at the Redwood Grove theater, and as I was getting ready to sing, I was asked to talk a little about Music Academy. As I talked, I could feel my nervousness for the performance I knew was about to happen, but I also felt contented. Everything at that moment was so peaceful around me, and the sense of togetherness was in the air. It’s a moment I will carry with me forever. It’s a moment I will keep as EHC begins rebuilding. It’s a moment I look forward to experiencing again when I return.

Maycie performs 'Doctor My Eyes' at Music Academy 2017 on the Redwood Grove Theater stage.
Maycie performs ‘Doctor My Eyes’ at Music Academy 2017 on the Redwood Grove Theater stage.

Maycie Vorreiter is a student at Santa Rosa Junior College and EHC camper from Northern California. You can also read about Maycie’s braille yearbook.

Want to share your story? Head to the Enchanted Hills’ Facebook page and comment or post a picture of your favorite EHC memory.