Since 1991, Camptown has helped more than 40,000 children spend time outdoors while teaching valuable skills — such as wilderness survival, environmental stewardship and leadership — through the organization’s day, week and overnight programs. Indy’s Child spoke to Don Schafer, president and executive director of Camptown, to learn more about this not-for-profit’s mission.
Tell us more about Camptown.
We are not a residential camp. We work with youth organizations to put together programs based on their goals and objectives. It might be a day hike at a state park or week backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. We hike, camp, canoe and climb. We also have a 2,000-square-foot bouldering wall at our indoor facility.
Our program is about getting kids outdoors, but it is more about making an impact on their lives. Close to 70% of the youth that Camptown works with are from economically impacted homes in the inner city, but we serve a broad range of youth.
What kind of programming is available, and what ages do you serve?
Our general ages are 8 to 18. There is also a Natural Wonders Day Camp for kindergarten to sixth grade that is one day at Fort Harrison State Park. We have special needs camps. We work with area high schools and go into the school to have training sessions. Then we do an overnight camp. We have an afterschool program for third to fifth graders in eight schools. We meet once weekly and four times a year we go on field trips to local state parks. We work with area community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs and local camps. Then we do “How Wild is Your School?” a hands-on nature education program in schools focusing on environmental awareness and nature education.
How did Camptown get its start?
Founder Tom Lehman was adopted as an infant. As an adult, he wanted to give back to children in need and started Camptown. I knew Tom when he started the organization, and he grew it until about 2001. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and battled that for two years, and then passed away. I took over in 2004. We have been growing and continuing Tom’s vision.
How is Camptown benefitting youth?
We found there are four key impacts. Youth grow in leadership, teambuilding, confidence and respect for others. We believe youth that have these skills have a better chance at succeeding and contributing to the community.
There was a young man we connected to our Youth Leader program. We kept him out of the juvenile justice system. I saw him several years later and he was in college studying law enforcement.
How can the community help Camptown?
Funds and resources go directly toward our programs. Connecting us to friends, families and employers help. We can always use additional financial resources. Our website (camptown.net) has a variety of ways to donate, whether giving, attending an event or volunteering both directly serving kids and administrative or event related.
We use our indoor climbing facility, Indy Crux (indycrux.com), during programs, but we also use it as an additional revenue generator. We rent it for birthday parties, youth groups, company or family outings. It is different from other climbing facilities because it is 100% private.