California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, joined community volunteers, Safeway representatives and others at Camp Hope on the shores of Sutherland Lake east of Ramona to celebrate the building of a new playground at the camp.
The playground celebration was held on California Family Day last Thursday.
Camp Hope serves as a place of healing to at-risk, abused and neglected children of San Diego County. The camp suffered considerable loss in the Witch Fire last October.
More than 100 volunteers listened as Shriver described a vision of hope, love and renewal through the gift of play.
“It is up to WE,” declared Shriver. “WE can come together in California as a family to provide safe places for children to play — to come and to laugh and to have hope.”
Tom Brown, Camp Hope president since its inception nearly seven years ago and chairman of the San Diego Family Justice Center Board, said, “It has been a long and arduous road to where we finally are today. The overall perception of the general public to the project has changed in a good way.
“It took a lot of effort to build the facility, in regards to permits as well as initial public opposition. At the end of the day, the people recognized the value of the program and its purpose.”
The camp will have permanent structures including a lodge, pool and outbuildings. The vision, according to Brown, is to provide a multi-use camp designed specifically to help children get back on a straight course, and perhaps become useful in other ways not yet discovered.
Sue Carter, executive director of Volunteer San Diego, described the mix of volunteers as being “a shining example of the best of partnership between the government, non-profit, and corporations coming together with communities for a common purpose.”
At the event were representatives of Vons of the Safeway Corporation, Kaboom, nonprofits, corporations, and teens recruited from high schools working alongside the National Guard from the 40th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Kearny Mesa.
“Our stores got involved on Day One,” said Daymond Rice, Public Affairs & Government Relations director for the Vons Division of Safeway, referring to the Witch Fire of last October. “In the first few hours, our relief efforts were based on store employees donating and driving product to the initial evacuation sites. However, within 48 hours, we began shipping food, water, baby supplies and more directly from our main distribution center by way of truck convoys.”
It was clear the rebuilding process would take time, continued Rice, “and from that point, we made a commitment to be part of that long-term process. Our contribution to Camp Hope is a way for us to follow up on that promise to the residents of southern California.
“The rebuilding process has not been an easy one, but being able to witness the action being taken today — and understanding its positive impacts on children — is truly rewarding.”
Camp Hope board member Stan Miller described the regeneration of a campsite in an area scarred by devastation.
“Unless burned,” said Miller, “new life cannot come.”
Camp Hope is a place where children come for healing — for hope. It is a place they are built up out of the ashes of a troubled past, said Miller.
“We give them tools to become positive people to contribute to society,” said Miller.
As Camp Hope rises from the ashes, so, too, will children, said those at the camp last Thursday. Lives can be renewed after experiencing a searing pain of abuse and devastation. Camp Hope is a place, said Miller, where children learn to trust again.
It is the vision of the camp that makes the playground structure particularly important, said Shriver.
“Playgrounds,” said Shriver, “are places where children first begin to learn many of life’s lessons. They learn patience, kindness, cooperation ... It is a place to both expand their horizons and come together.”
As the day came to a close, a place of secure adventure rose against the sky. The playground was built as a structure that will help to rebuild lives.
For more information on volunteer opportunities or to donate to Camp Hope, call Leona Sublett at 788-1823 or e-mail Leona@ camphopesandiego.org or www.californiavolunteers.org.