By Erin Porteous, CEO

When the warm breeze of summer sweetens the air, and the sun lingers over the mountains just a little bit longer in the evenings, I can’t help but want to turn on the serenading sounds of John Denver. Over the years, his music has become a quintessential staple for me when heading down the lanes of 285 or I-70 westbound.

Now as an adult, the kick-off of the summer season always becomes a point of reflection. Partially in envy of all the children who don’t know just how great summer break truly is, and partially because it allows me the opportunity to revel in the trips and outdoor experiences my parents provided me so that I could learn and explore in this vastly rich nature embedded state. One of my adventures growing up in Colorado included going to summer camp.


By Erin Porteous, CEO

When the warm breeze of summer sweetens the air, and the sun lingers over the mountains just a little bit longer in the evenings, I can’t help but want to turn on the serenading sounds of John Denver. Over the years, his music has become a quintessential staple for me when heading down the lanes of 285 or I-70 westbound.

Now as an adult, the kick-off of the summer season always becomes a point of reflection. Partially in envy of all the children who don’t know just how great summer break truly is, and partially because it allows me the opportunity to revel in the trips and outdoor experiences my parents provided me so that I could learn and explore in this vastly rich nature embedded state. One of my adventures growing up in Colorado included going to summer camp.

The imprint that camp made on my life is one of the many reasons I’m so proud that summertime at Boys & Girls Clubs Metro Denver means more than 500 local children between the ages of 8-13 get the opportunity to spend a week at Gates Camp, our sleepaway summer camp near the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. While parents and our Club staff can count the number of nights the kids are away, we can’t possibly count the number of memories that are created in those life-changing days.

Generation Z may be miles ahead of mine in terms of technology, but transportation to camp is much the same: by bus (albeit a much newer, nicer one than the one we rode to camp). On the ride up to camp on Monday mornings, the bus is surprisingly quiet despite the 70 Boys & Girls Club members who are fastened in for a scenic journey up the mountains just outside Ward, Colorado. No one knows anyone yet, so the vibe in the air is a mix of tentative excitement and first day of camp jitters. By the time the kids board the bus for the ride home on Friday night, they’re bursting with exuberance and chatter that can barely be contained, even when the driver is trying to get their attention.

One of my favorite Gates Camp stories was told to me by two little girls who had just attended camp for the first time. “What’s your favorite thing about camp?” I asked them. Their eyes lit up and they giggled. “We love the hippopotamuses in the lake!” they exclaimed. Now, I assure you, supporters and friends of the organization, we do not have any live hippos in our lake (at a whopping 9,449 feet of elevation, might I add), so you can imagine my bewilderment with their answer. I pressed them for more details. The girls shared that they would see the hippos in the lake when they were playing on shore, and they thought maybe the hippos were sleeping because they didn’t move much. Later, after sharing this tale with the camp director, he solved the Great Hippopotamus Mystery: what the girls saw were actually large rocks, recently exposed, because our lake water levels had dropped that summer. I laughed, and laughed, and still chuckle about it to this day. What elates me about this story is not the hippos themselves (okay, I do love the hippos), but how a magical place like Gates Camp helps us foster important traits in children like the vibrant imagination and enchanted optimism bursting forth from those little girls.

I still remember attending summer camp for my first time as a kid.  My parents strived to provide that special opportunity for my brother and me because they wanted to encourage our appreciation for time spent in the great outdoors, the grit that comes from making new friends in unfamiliar places, and the kind of creative play and unabashed inventive thinking that leads to the discovery of hippopotamuses in a lake. Our Club kids – most of whom rarely get the chance to spend quality time in nature – live the hardships of poverty every day, which often means hunger at bedtime, lack of personal hygiene products like soap and deodorant, and seldom a good night’s sleep because of limited rest areas available to families experiencing homelessness or bustling urban neighborhoods that are loud late into the night. That’s why summertime at Boys & Girls Clubs means helping these kids leave their daily grind behind for a few days, so they can fill their little lungs with fresh mountain air, let out a big happy sigh, and embark on adventures that beckon them to explore, discover, wonder, learn and grow… just like every kid should have the chance to do.

So this summer, as you partake in the best that Colorado has to offer, whether that’s a hike in the high country, a concert at Red Rocks, or a single track mountain bike trail… when the sunshine on your shoulders makes you happy… think of our Club kids and the joyful, exhilarating camp experiences you are helping to support, including hippo sightings in the lake.

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