A Message of Thanks from Carlos

During this traditional time of giving, we want to recognize you as part of a community committed to giving young people an opportunity so powerful that it has the potential to shape their future. While at camp each summer, campers forge lifelong friendships and overcome challenges, becoming more confident, resilient, and responsible.

We are proud of the work we do together to change kids’ lives. Thank you for believing in our mission and for positively impacting the lives of some wonderful kids.

Click on the video below for a special message from Carlos explaining how grateful he is for your support.

Your Support is Changing Kids’ Lives

We would like to say THANK YOU to our loyal and generous supporters who help to provide the gift of camp to amazing kids around the country, allowing them to develop lifelong friendships and important life skills while having the time of their lives. We are so grateful to our supporters for making a difference in the lives of the young people we serve, and they are truly appreciative also.

You can hear from a few of them by clicking on the video below.

Annual Report Published


Entitled ‘A Year Unlike Any Other’ our latest Annual Report covering our July 2019 – June 2020 fiscal year has been published. We are sincerely grateful for our community’s collective gifts of TIME, TALENT and TREASURE that have been brought together to support the social and emotional growth and development of the amazing kids we served over the past year. As you read through the pages of this report, we hope that you will see the amazing support that this community has invested in the success of these kids in a year unlike any other.

Click HERE to download a copy of the report.

The Simple Pleasures of Summer Camp

Written by Guest Columnist: Debbie Leibold, JACF Trustee

As this school year comes to a close, I’m a little more sentimental than usual. You see, my youngest son just graduated from high school. It seems like yesterday that I was taking him for the first time to Cheley Colorado Camps for four weeks of fun and adventure. That was back in 2011. After I dropped him off at camp, I spent some time reflecting and wrote an article called “The Simple Pleasures of Summer Camp.” I rediscovered that article recently and it holds even more weight for me now as I think about my son heading off to college in just a couple of months.


He is well prepared and eager for this next chapter in his life, and I am excited for everything that awaits him. As much as I want to hang on, I know that his four years at camp taught him how to be away from home, how to deal with homesickness, how to live with others, how to work together, how to build community, how to face challenges and how to deal with adversity. For my son (and for me many years ago), those camp experiences fueled his love of the outdoors and a great respect for the simple moments—those powerful times of connection and sincerity that only occur when distractions are limited and stresses are gone.

Little did my son know when he was 11 years old that he was preparing himself for this moment… the chance to face new challenges and opportunities, meet a new community of people, further develop his character and independence, build resilience, and discover his own path as he heads off to college.

I think I’m the one who will be “kid-sick,” but I know that he’s ready to spread his wings and soar, thanks in part to the wonderful experiences he had at camp.


The Simple Pleasures of Summer Camp

I took my son to sleep-away camp for the first time this week.  He will be gone for a month at a traditional summer camp in Colorado.  I attended this camp as a child and worked there during my college summers, but it’s still a little nerve-wracking to leave your ten-year-old in the hands of a bunch of young “twenty-somethings” you’ve never met before.  Even though I used to be one of those “twenty-somethings” with whom parents left their children, for some reason, it feels a little different when it is your own child you are leaving. 

I was comforted by knowing my son would be enjoying the simple pleasures of living in the great outdoors, cooking over a campfire, riding horses, climbing mountains, encountering wild animals, experiencing Mother Nature’s unpredictability, and basically having the time of his life.  I have read lately that many traditional summer camps are going by the wayside, as parents see “more value” in a specialty camp that emphasizes one highly intensive program.  That “value” parents seek includes more tangible takeaways for campers, like awards, improved targeted skills, higher competition levels, increased academic achievement, and even experiences and honors to bolster a college application resume.  I am looking for just the opposite for my son.

My son spends the entire school year being pushed to achieve at a higher level.  He plays competitive sports, takes music lessons, and works hard to get good grades.  His older brother does all of those things too, but is already thinking about adding community service projects, part-time jobs, or other leadership roles so that he has something to feature on his college application . . . and he’s only thirteen.  Today’s children are constantly bombarded with messages that they must get better grades, earn higher test scores, play on a more competitive team, get into a more prestigious university, and just do more with less time to do it.  My children don’t need a summer camp to reinforce all of those messages. 

The technology-driven and competitive world our children live in is forcing them to grow up too fast.  Unstructured playtime and “exploring” have been replaced by tutoring sessions, professional coaching sessions, community service projects, standardized test preparation classes, extensive homework, and increasing family responsibilities. Unfortunately, that fast-paced world is a reality; however, those children who are lucky enough to “take the summer off” and go to a traditional sleep-away camp, will undoubtedly return to school, their families, and their increasingly pressure-filled world better equipped to manage the challenges that await them. 

A traditional summer camp provides all kinds of opportunities that demonstrate “fun with a purpose,” not just more drills or training in one particular activity, like the sports practices and coaching sessions many children (including my son) attend at home.  When children are offered chances to try challenging activities they’ve never done before, live with others they’ve never met before, or play in ways they’ve never played before, they become people they’ve never been before.  They learn how to build relationships, become more self-reliant, and explore their leadership potential.  They learn to set goals and work hard to achieve them.  They value a strong sense of community and learn to be compassionate toward others.  They also discover that honesty, loyalty, patience, and perseverance will help them through any situation.

I learned those lessons at camp in the 1980’s and watched my campers discover the same lessons when I was a camp counselor in the early 1990’s.  I can’t wait to hear stories about my son’s adventures, the camp food, and his new friends.  More importantly, I look forward to witnessing the changes in his character.  Of course, he’ll be the same boy I know and love, but he’ll also have a better-defined sense of self.  He’ll feel more confident when he faces challenges and will know that he can achieve anything with some hard work and dedication.

As adults, we would do ourselves a favor if we could just go back in time and remember how it felt to sit around the campfire with our closest friends, singing songs, and roasting marshmallows.  Nothing else in the world mattered except what we were doing at that very moment.  The pressures and worries all disappeared and we were completely free to be ourselves and truly enjoy the company of others.  In such a complicated world, I am refreshed by that simple vision.  I am also personally challenged to live in the moment and make the most of my opportunities.  But perhaps more than anything else, I feel inspired to create more “camp-like” times for my son when he returns home next month.  Rather than racing to the next activity, driving through the fast food window, rushing through the homework, and going to bed way too late, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a camp moment of our own.  We’ll take the time to listen to one another as we share our stories.  We’ll laugh out loud.  We’ll celebrate the sunset.  We’ll talk about our dreams.  We’ll value our time together.  We’ll throw another log on the fire and roast another s’more – for it is often the little moments that make the greatest difference.

Debbie Leibold, Trustee, John Austin Cheley Foundation


If You Go – You WILL Grow!

Central to our belief about summer camp is that if you go – you WILL grow! And what’s more, we believe the MORE you go – the MORE you will grow. One of the more unique aspects of the John Austin Cheley Foundation’s Campership Program is that it provides funding to a camper for ‘their full lifespan of camp’. To understand the value this provides, we are constantly seeking to know more about the impact that repeated camp experiences have upon the kids we support. Our own summer camp outcomes data tells us that JACF Campership participants experience significant growth during their time at camp (Figure 1). By collecting outcomes data from our campers and their parents at the end of the summer we are able to see exactly how camp has shaped the campers’ growth.

Figure 1: JACF Summer Camp Data Outcomes*


As we engage with our alumni more we will gain a broader understanding of how they have continued to be influenced by their experiences at camp after they have ended. In the meantime…

… a new study on the lasting impacts of summer camp experiences has recently been published.

This study, funded in part by the American Camp Association and published in the Journal of Leisure Research, is particularly interesting to us because the participants included were, like our alumni, individuals not currently engaged with the camp experience. As Cait Wilson, PhD (research associate, University of Utah) points out, it is clear that camp has a lasting and positive impact on youth development!

“The first key takeaway is that all camp experiences impact young people’s lives for the better. Former campers said they developed a lot of important outcomes like relationship skills, independence, and a willingness to try new things.”

The findings show that people who repeatedly attended camp reported increased development.

Wilson notes that “Repeated participation in summer camp, may impact how and in what ways young campers develop. Specifically, this study examines how two factors of behavioral loyalty, dosage (e.g., weeks at camp) and developmental progression (e.g., transitioning from camper to camp employee), are associated with youth development attributed to the camp experience. Campers categorized as core participants (i.e., those reporting higher dosage and further developmental progression) were compared to fringe participants (i.e., those who reported lower dosage of camp and less developmental progression). There were significant differences in development for core and fringe participants based on both dosage and developmental progression. Although both core and fringe participants benefited from camp, core participants reported greater development of measured outcomes such as relationship skills, appreciation for diversity, and self-identity.”

Figure 2: Table summarizing the results from the study**

This study also supports JACF’s commitment to funding residential summer camp experiences in particular because greater development was shown to occur at overnight camps. This is likely because of more dosage as a result of more contact hours  – 24 hours per day.

These findings offer insight into the benefits of repeated participation in residential summer camp and support JACF’s commitment to fund a camper for their ‘full lifespan of camp’.

In short, the investment that our organization and our supporters make in providing repeat opportunities for our campers to attend camp produces a GREATER RETURN.

If you would like to read the full journal article on this study, it can be purchased here.


* These are samples of a larger set of outcomes data collected from JACF campers in 2018

**Published in the American Camp Association’s Research 360 Blog – Feb, 2019

The ‘A to Z’ of Why I Send My Child To Camp

Millions of children attend thousands of overnight camps throughout the United States each summer.  If this was ever your experience, or is one that you lovingly provided to your children or grandchildren, then you know in your heart that camp is good, GREAT even. But is it ESSENTIAL? Believing it to be a critical component of our children’s upbringing, my wife and I wrestled with this belief as well as the reality of the expense.

It’s not cheap (or necessarily easy) to send your child away for weeks at a time, but the built-in benefits of overnight camp are hard to deny.

The thing is, I believe that it is important to challenge kids…to get them truly outside of their comfort zones so that they can grow. As a kid living in England, summer camp was an unknown to me. But as an adventurous soul raised by outdoor-loving parents I found my way to camp as a young international camp counselor. It was there that I truly saw the incredible impact camp had upon the campers and where I felt its effect upon my own growth and development. Its impact upon me was to become even more dramatic when I met my future wife working at our sister camp across the lake. It is fair to say that during those summers camp got under my skin.

OK, full disclosure…I don’t actually have a reason to send my daughter to camp that represents every letter of the alphabet, but as a summer camp advocate I want to share my story and the reasons why my wife and I helped Ellie at the age of 8 board a plane in Denver bound for Minnesota, and why she will be eagerly doing so again this summer.

It starts with ADVANTAGE – I wanted to send my daughter to overnight camp to provide her with a competitive advantage in life.

That first year Ellie went to camp for two weeks, and I will admit that it was hard for me. But despite missing her each and every day, I knew that she was in a great place, having fun, and learning…a lot. I know deep down that this experience will be one of the pieces that will shape her development, ultimately helping her to be successful in life no matter what path she chooses. With emerging technologies reshaping the workplace of the future, I believe that a high-quality, nature-based summer camp experience is one of the best competitive advantages we can give our children. Really!

College admissions officers aren’t necessarily going to be influenced by colorful dip candles or knowing all the words to “Old Lady Leary”. They may not care if she can pitch a tent or tie a bowline. But those things aren’t so important to us. Our goal is bigger.

We are betting on the real benefits of summer camp, which we believe will give her a true competitive advantage in life:





Summer camp builds CONFIDENCE

Overnight camp gives kids an opportunity to build the self-confidence they’re going to need in life. The increase in self-confidence that is so often seen after only the first few days of camp can be attributed to ‘firsts’. A child’s first time paddling a canoe, climbing a mountain, riding a horse and, especially, being away from their parents for an extended period of time all qualify as big self-esteem boosters. Those things push them out of their comfort zone, all while being supported by caring adult role models in a safe and nurturing environment.

According to an extensive study of camper outcomes conducted by Philliber Research Associates, 70 percent of parents report that their child gained self-confidence while at camp. Whether they work through homesickness or tackle an activity that pushed them outside of their comfort zone, kids walk away feeling a stronger sense of personal pride and self-reliance.

Summer camp promotes CREATIVITY

Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” He believed that people invent when they connect the dots between the experiences they’ve had. To do this, he argued that we need to have more experiences and spend more time thinking about those experiences.

The beauty of summer camp is that not only do kids get a much-needed opportunity to unplug, achieve focus and develop creative thought processes and connections, but they get to do it in nature, which lends its own creative boost.

At camp creativity can’t be stifled because kids don’t have to worry about getting a failing grade. I believe that it is only when kids are free of such restriction that their creativity can flourish.

Summer camp develops RESPONSIBILITY

Tasks are assigned and there are expectations to keep the cabins clean. There is also peer pressure to work as a team. This, in my opinion, is peer pressure at its very best.

Summer camp forges INDEPENDENCE

Nothing brings out and tests the independence of a child more than time away from their parents. Without mom or dad around, who is going to make their decisions? Who is going to tell them to brush their teeth? Make their bed? At camp, they make these choices on their own.

Camp allows children to truly understand the thought that goes into making good decisions, and they discover even more about themselves in the process. Not to mention (ear muffs for those parents who think they should be the only source of guidance for their kids), children also lean on peers or other adult role models for support if they do need additional help.

There are other life skills kids and teens can establish at camp too. Multiple studies conducted over the past decade have shown summer camp programs stimulate the development of interpersonal competencies, enhance leadership skills and have positive effects on emotional intelligence skills such as empathy. They increase a young person’s sense of empowerment, self-control, resilience, self-understanding, assertiveness, decision-making skills, and self-esteem. Camp programs develop healthier attitudes toward physical activity, encourage exploration and because of their nature-based location they promote nature access and appreciation which is proven to enhance kids’ academic performance. Summer camp is powerful in many ways. It is increasingly relevant, and, to my wife and I, it is unquestionably important. Ellie reminds me not to leave out that it is fun and entertaining too!

It ends with ZEST!

So, yes, I will gladly let Ellie walk out the door for another summer camp adventure where she will reflect, unwind, think and laugh. She will explore, perform skits she and her cabin-mates write themselves and make those endless friendship bracelets to tie onto the wrists of lifelong friends.

When she comes back through our door, my wife and I are certain that, in addition to having tons of creativity and independence, she’ll once again return a better version of her original self – cheerful and helpful, sharing stories about new friends and adventures, demonstrating more comfort with who she is as a person in this world, and with a quiet passion and great enthusiasm for the causes she believes in.

Is there a downside to this lexicon of camp? Well yes, for us there are actually TWO that I can think of.

First, a traditional summer camp is not for every child. Indeed Ellie’s older sister who is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder would not necessarily thrive at camp like most due to social and communications challenges.

Second, Ellie’s younger sister desperately does want to experience camp and we want that for her too…and so that’s an additional big future expense. Thank goodness for their grandparents and their unwavering belief in the power of camp. And thank goodness for everyone who finds it in his or her hearts to share the gift of camp, whether that gift is for their own family members or for kids who deserve the opportunities and advantages that summer camp provides.








Happy Valentine’s Day.


Tim Lucas

Executive Director, John Austin Cheley Foundation



What Camp Means To Me – Elle’s Story

In 2018 the Foundation funded 104 month-long high-quality summer camp experiences for kids whose families cannot afford such an impactful opportunity. These kids each have a story to tell. A life-shaping story about personal growth, achievement, and new opportunity.

The John Austin Cheley Foundation is changing kids’ lives through transformative summer camp experiences. Here is Elle’s story.

What Camp Means To Me – Joshua’s Story

In 2018 the Foundation funded 104 month-long high-quality summer camp experiences for kids whose families cannot afford such an impactful opportunity. These kids each have a story to tell. A life-shaping story about personal growth, achievement, and new opportunity.

The John Austin Cheley Foundation is changing kids’ lives through transformative summer camp experiences. Here is Joshua’s story.