Taproots at Camp Walden group photo campers
Taproots at Camp Walden: Giving Kids the Life-Changing Gift of Camp

Taproots at Camp Walden is addressing what it sees as an “opportunity gap.” That is to say, some kids are missing out on the wonderful, life-changing experience that is summer camp. Children of color from low-income homes, from example. Taproots wants to give them the formative experience of being carefree campers at an overnight camp.

Some people may see summer camp as an extravagance that not everyone can afford. But Taproots sees things differently—seeing summer camp as a critical experience from which every child can benefit and grow. We put some questions to Taproots Executive Director Jen Hartzog to learn more about the work of this, our latest small grant recipient:

Kars4Kids: Tell us something about your demographic—whom do you serve?

Jen Hartzog: We serve kids ages 7-17 who come from low-income households, with a focus on children of color.

Kars4Kids: When was Taproots at Camp Walden founded, and why?

Jen Hartzog: Taproots at Camp Walden – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization – was founded in 2019 to help bring children from low-income households to Camp Walden, focusing on children of color. Knowing that sending a child to overnight camp is neither financially viable nor culturally normative for lower-income families and families of color, Taproots at Camp Walden was founded to bridge the opportunity gap and actively recruit kids to camp.

At Taproots, we believe the powerful experience of summer camp is something every child deserves – regardless of race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. But in the U.S., summer camp is an opportunity largely reserved for children from well-off families. Nationwide, 80% of children attending summer camp are from middle- or upper-income families. Children of color and children from low-income families are greatly underrepresented at summer camps. We’re working to change that.

Kars4Kids: What is the significance of the name “Taproots?”

Jen Hartzog: Inspired by the prolific trees at Camp Walden, the name “Taproots” was chosen to represent strong roots, a connection to the natural world, and experiences that build resilience.

Kars4Kids: Describe for us, if you would, your core program, Taproots Mini-Week.

Jen Hartzog: The Taproots Mini-Week is a tuition-free mini-week of camp that takes place every August at Camp Walden in Cheboygan, MI. Working in partnership with other organizations in Michigan, Taproots brings children from low-income households to Camp Walden for a four-day, three-night sleep-away camp experience. Mini Week offers kids a taste of the independence and activities of overnight camp – campfires & s’mores, mess hall meals, swimming in the lake, arts & crafts, sports & games, cabin life, and much more.

Kars4Kids: You offer camp scholarships, correct? Are these full scholarships? How long do the camp sessions run?

Jen Hartzog: Yes! We offer camp scholarships – we call them “camperships.” Our camperships fully cover the tuition for one session of camp that lasts for two weeks. Campers who receive our camperships can attend for any two-week session of Camp Walden. Due to popular requests from our campers who love camp and want to spend more time there, a new goal at Taproots is to grow the campership program so the camperships can cover tuition for three- or four-week sessions of camp.

Kars4Kids: Where is Camp Walden, and what’s it like?

Jen Hartzog: Camp Walden is a co-ed overnight camp located in Northern Michigan. The camp was founded in 1959 and has been family-owned and -operated ever since. The 100-acre main property encompasses woods, meadows, and shoreline along a spring-fed lake. Activities offered at Walden include athletics, water sports, performing arts, visual arts, nature/outdoor life, and horseback riding.

At Walden, exploration is encouraged and supported by caring counselors and veteran administrators whose primary job is to create an environment where children feel accepted and safe.  When campers understand that their efforts will be supported—whether they succeed or fail—they are more willing to step outside their comfort zones, and this is where the real growth occurs!

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Taproots at Camp Walden? Although Taproots was founded in 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic delayed our ability to start bringing kids to camp through programming and camperships. So, the summer of 2024 will only be our third summer in operation. What’s next for us is continuing to grow our core program and campership offerings so we can serve more kids.

Facebook Comments