At a Montgomery County camp, city kids get the chance to experience country life.
Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2016
By Amanda Cregan, correspondent
For 95 years, generations of children from Philadelphia have been escaping the confines of the hot, bustling city to spend two weeks at the College Settlement summer camp in Horsham.
“We’re one of the best-kept secrets in the Philadelphia area,” said executive director Robert Kutzik.
Many campers learn how to swim and ride bikes for the first time. They meet farm animals, hike in the woods, catch lightning bugs and, overall, enjoy a slower, quieter pace that is starkly different from the noise and hustle of everyday urban life.
Thanks to the guidance and financial donations of Bucks and Montgomery county business leaders, the non-profit College Settlement has continued its strong legacy of serving needy, inner city kids.
More than just a taste of country life, the camp teaches the Quaker values of conflict resolution that leaders hope the children will carry with them for a lifetime.
Founded by Jane Addams in Chicago, the earliest Settlement House was the first charitable organization (not formally connected to church or government services) established to support immigrants and the poor. Along with Addams, the founders were all college-educated women in the late 19th century.
In 1892, College Settlement started in South Philadelphia to serve immigrants. In 1921, the organization purchased land in Horsham.
It was an opportunity for children who were not wealthy to have the same opportunity as wealthy children,” said Kutzik, noting that it was common at the time for wealthy families to stay at their country home to escape the city’s heat during summer months.
Today, the 235-acre camp remains the largest undeveloped tract of land in eastern Montgomery County that is not government-owned. About 75 percent of the campers come from Philadelphia.
The actual cost to provide two weeks of summer camp for a child is $2,400. College Settlement discounts the cost to $250 for two weeks for children who have free and reduced lunch status. Additional financial aid is offered to families who can’t afford the reduced rate.
“Summer camp today is a pretty expensive proposition. Our camp remains today one of the most affordable camps, and we never turn a child away because of a lack of funds,” said Kutzik.
All of those costs are covered by the local business community. College Settlement is led by a board of directors; most of whom are active or retired corporate leaders or business owners. Business owners can see how their financial donations directly impact local children.
“As they get involved they are touching the lives of hundreds and hundreds of families,” said Kutzik. ” Without the help of the business community we couldn’t continue.”
Steve Hamilton, an operational risk manager with the financial firm Fiserv, has been serving on the College Settlement for six years. “When I understood the mission of the camp it resonated with me. I like the mission of being able to influence and make a difference with disadvantaged kids,” said Hamilton, of Horsham. “They serve kids ages 7 to 14 and I view that as an influential age that they really are just absorbing the opportunities that they’re a part of.”
For the approximately 20 College Settlement board members, months of committee and board meetings, fundraisers and financial planning come to a culmination when they interact with the campers each summer at a dinner in the camp’s dining hall. “It really brings everything back into perspective as to why we’re doing it,” Hamilton said.
The board consists of a diverse group of business and community leaders; each bring a unique skill set such as legal, accounting and education, according to Hamilton.
For non-profits, there is a greater pressure to show donors the metrics of how their dollars are being spent and directly making a difference in the community.
“It’s becoming very much like a business to be able to show that,” he said. College Settlement soon will be looking to its business community for greater financial help. In coming months, it will launch a capital campaign to raise funds to improve its camp facilities.