Camp Dat-So-La-Lee

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by Robert and Marian Bond

[Photo: Camp Lamoille nestled in the Ruby Mountains]

It would be difficult to say who received the most pleasure out of the week-long Lions Camp Dat-So-La-Lee, sponsored by the 45 District 46 Lions clubs in Nevada. It would be a toss-up between the Lions who worked tirelessly to prepare and manage the camp, the counselors who shepherded and nurtured the campers for the week or the 49 campers who came from around the state for a camping experience they might otherwise have never known.

The idea of sponsoring a camp for deserving children originated with Lion R. C. Barnes, of the Reno (Host) Lions Club - and finding a suitable site was a concern.

The Elko Lions Club, however, has had a lease on what was once a Civilian Conservation Corporation campground in Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains in northeastern Nevada since 1984. Built around 1940, the 10-acre grounds had for years been a Boy Scout camp. The Elko Lions Club, with 110 members, maintains the grounds and leases it out as a community service. All proceeds go back into maintaining the property, where local residents go for family reunions, weddings and church activities, says Warner Whipple, chairman of the Elko Lions Camp Lamoille, which operates as a non-profit corporation.

The club agreed to set aside the last week of June every year to accommodate a camp for deserving children that that would be sponsored by all the Nevada clubs and two Northern California clubs. official project. Camp Dat-So-La-Lee was named for a woman who was a noted basket-maker and a member of the Washoe tribe of Northwestern Nevada and Lake Tahoe region.

[Photo: A girl with her new companion]

The camp was established as a non-profit corporation, and in 1990, Lions received an LCIF grant of $50,000. It was matched with Lions supplying an equal amount in labor and materials. Lions improved the property by building six new A-frame structures suitable for housing up to 12 persons.

Every club in the district has the opportunity to designate a camper (or possibly two) to attend the camp. A coordinator in each club is selected in the fall to help identify a youngster to participate the following June. The club is asked to pay an initial $125 of the camper fee plus funds - usually $50 - towards transportation. The balance of the cost per camper is supported by the corporation.

Camp Administrator and president of the corporation, Dennis Hugh, is a member of the Las Vegas (West Charleston) Lions Club. He says that by January of each year, he usually knows which clubs will participate and how many campers there will be. Space limits the camp to not more than 52 campers, and there are usually 49 or 50 in the final count.

The plan is for an equal amount of 10-year-old girls and boys -26 each - and the policy is strictly adhered to because Lions believe youngsters at this stage of life are responsive, impressionable and open to role models. The idea of the camp, Lions emphasize, is to show children that there is a better way of life. Paid counselors generally come from the Reno area, and are often students at the University of Nevada in Reno. Campers are divided into "tribes" of eight or nine, and there are two counselors per tribe.

[Photo: Lion Chuck Knight at the archery range with campers]

All activities are geared toward their age range, and include archery, a BB gun range, arts and crafts, campfire, hiking, and most important, new friends and lots of good food.

The Lions arrive at the grounds several days early in order to prepare the camp for all the scheduled activities. This includes mowing grass and removing weeds, preparing bath and shower facilities, setting up the kitchen and dining hall, the trading post and nurse's station. They also set up all the sporting equipment at the venues that are spread out over the 10 acres.

Lions and their spouses bring their own RVs and camping facilities and prepare for the week-long activities. Lions and their spouses do nearly everything - pull "KP" duty, serves as instructors and fill in wherever needed during the camp's rigorous activities.

During the 2002 camp, there were 25 adults, with Lions from 10 clubs, and some paid staff, including the 12 counselors, for a total of 37 helpers. Bentonville (Noon) Lion Walt Gridley, a former member of the Carson City, Nevada, Club, drove from Arkansas to help out because he wanted to remain active in this worthwhile project for kids.

Hugh has been serving as camp administrator for four years, with Carson City Lion Mike Shaughnessy as Lions Volunteer Director, Reno (Host) Lion Vern Heppner has served as treasurer of the corporation since its inception.

Lions provide all sleeping bags, cots and blankets for the campers. They are asked to bring their own pillow, and not more than $15, which is deposited at the trading post for their personal use. Following each camp, the blankets and sleeping bags are cleaned and all equipment is stored.

[Photo: Elaine Knight helps a young camper find the right shirt size]

The actual cost per child for the week is approximately $500, which amounts to an entire week of running the camp costing $25,000. The balance of the funds needed comes from the sale of 1,200 calendars at $25 apiece.

"We sell 24 ads for the calendar at $150 each," says Hugh. "We raise $30,000. Every day of the year we have a drawing and give away at least $25. Once a month the prize money will be from $100 to $500. So we give away $11,500 out of the lottery. The calendar is our primary method of funding the camp."

The balance of the money goes towards the paid staff, buys new equipment, food and supplies. If there's anything left over, it goes into the George F. Hamilton Endowment Fund. He was a 49-year member of the Reno (Host) Lions Club, who also served as a district governor. The corporation also offers a life member program for $500, the Harry L. Poe Fellowship, along with the George Hamilton Fellowship for a $1,000 contribution.

The more than 1,300 Lions in the district also donate to the camp. Another major financial contributor is the Barrick Goldstrike Mines, with locations in northeastern Nevada.

[Photo: Las Vegas (Sundowners) Lion Arlene McClennan served as assistant chef]

In keeping with the American Indian theme, everyone - including counselors and Lions -- takes a new name for the week. The children are able to select their own names, which last year included such creations as Crazy Quilt, Red Cloud, Bald Eagle, Wildflower and Bluebell.

Campers enjoy dinner served by the campfire the first night, then are led to the dining hall where dozens of stuffed animals are displayed on the tables, donated by the Las Vegas hotels/casinos Circus Circus and Excalibur. The children are urged to come in and select a toy, which they'll take home as another memento of their stay.

The youngsters are kept busy throughout the week with a full schedule of activities, meals, play and campfires. Tears usually flow at the end of their stay when they realize it's time to say goodbye to their new friends and head home.

Lions are kept busy closing up the camp, putting away equipment, cleaning the kitchen and preparing for others who will visit the Elko Lions Camp Lamoille.

For those children departing the campgrounds, however, their brief stay provided by Lions will prove an experience to be long remembered.