Capital Campaign Origin Story

Today is October 1st, 2019. On November 28th, 2018, I exchanged my first email with John Munter, the current owner of the property that we are very close to purchasing outside of Saratoga Springs. On December 2nd I set foot on the property for the first time.

In 10 months so much has changed. 

The Dining Hall

The Dining Hall

When I first contacted John, after seeing this article, I never thought we would actually get this far. Like any good camp renter we keep our eye on what other camps are doing and what is available. I assumed this meeting would be like any of the other dozens of meetings I have had like this. We would walk around the property, talk about our camp, hear about his hopes for the property, and find 100 reasons why this partnership would not work. 

I was wrong. 

I wasn’t nervous at all because I knew this was never going to work. The property was perfect. An amazing dining hall, private lake, cool indoor space, tons of open fields and wooded areas, large enough, but not too spread out. A pirate ship. A PIRATE SHIP!!!! It was a perfect Stomping Ground, but it would never work. 

I was forthcoming with John about how challenging it would be for us to raise the kind of money it would take to purchase the land and renovate it. That we have never done anything like that before or handled the type of construction that would be needed. I put my cards on the table hoping he would find a good reason to walk away. After a couple of hours walking the property, we parted ways.

On February 7th John and I met at Raindancer Diner for lunch. I had spent a long time thinking about this project and was ready to walk away. We had done some super rough numbers and there was no way this could work. I sat down and the first thing John asked was about a group of camps that had reached out to him. Did I know them? Were we a part of them? I did, and we are not.

Laura's first visit to the site in Saratoga in March 2019!

He had been approached by a group of the most expensive camps in the country. They are known for being some of the best-run camps that only serve the wealthiest kids. I told him as much that I knew about them, and added that we would never be able to pay anywhere near what they could for the property. “I am not going to call them back.” He responded without a second thought. 

Since that meeting in February, I have met and talked with John about once a week. He is one of the most amazing, committed people I have ever met. I have loved not only his generosity of time and resources but his stories and getting to know him. 

With John, we have embarked on Stomping Ground’s first capital campaign to secure this property. The property is perfect for what we do, not only because of what I said above, but also the location in the center of a state forest, just a few hours from our largest service areas, and only 15 minutes from downtown Saratoga. It would be a dream come true to be able to give the gift of a sustainable future to campers for years to come. 

Drone Footage of the New Site

10 Year Plan

Our first fundraising event announcing the campaign

Our first fundraising event announcing the campaign

This is a huge project that will take the better part of 10 years to see to completion. The property is perfect, but the facilities need a huge amount of work, we need to build community and connection in the area, and we need to learn how to manage and upgrade a facility. It is the opportunity and challenge of a lifetime. I am unbelievably excited and scared to be a part of it. 

Today, we have built out three phases for moving forward. 

Phase one is to secure the property and begin renovations to be able to run a smallish camp program in Saratoga. Smallish means ~100 kids at a time. To do this we need to modernize the electrical and water infrastructure, add bathrooms to the activity center dining hall, re-establish the dining hall kitchen, renovate the existing bathhouse, build cabins, and do a number of projects to make existing buildings safe and ready to use. 

Phase one is a huge project and will require herculean work from Klee, Ray, and Laura to pull it off and all the help we can get from volunteers as the time comes, but it is just the beginning. 

Phase two and three include adding another bathhouse, more cabins, renovating an 1830s farmhouse, building an awesome Downtown Stomping Ground, adding forts, and more. Famously, colleges often don’t put in walkways during new construction and wait to see where students will walk. Phases 2 and 3 are our walkways. We know they will need to be built, and we need to get kids on the property to see where the most pressing needs are. 

Capital Campaigns

Leave a legacy. $250 and $500 bricks.

Leave a legacy. $250 and $500 bricks.

Traditional capital campaigns have months or years of planning, a quiet phase before launch where the organization hasn’t publicly announced, the public stage, and then the follow up. These campaigns typically take years with huge time done upfront to plan. 

We didn’t have that luxury. To move forward we needed to act quickly. Laura reached out to some key supporters and within a few weeks had raised over $50,000 from incredibly generous people willing to take a risk at the beginning of the project. 

Dollars and Sense

After working with different contractors, we decided to work with Kodiak Construction, a local firm, to build out a plan for phase one of construction. To be able to have campers at camp, including the first round of renovations and a down payment on the property, we need to raise $500,000. 

At the moment we have raised $324,000 from people like you. THANK YOU! To be totally safe and ready to rock and roll we need $176,000 more by November 1st.

This is where you can help. Can you help make this property a reality for 1000s of campers? Your donation can give Stomping Ground a forever home and give the gift of camp to young people across the northeast for the next 100-200 years. 

Please consider making a gift today. I would love to talk more about the campaign, camp, or what we are up to. Let’s talk!

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JACK SCHOTT
FOUNDER/DIRECTOR
JACK@CAMPSTOMPINGGROUND.ORG
585-451-5141

Stomping Ground Growth

I am blown away and humbled by the love, trust, and support Stomping Ground has received over the last five years. In 2015, Laura and I teamed up with an incredible team to run our first week of camp. That first summer we had 64 brave founding campers. It was a wild week and we learned so much, but it was the beginning of something special. In 2019, 24 of those original campers are still campers five years later.

You can read more about our origin story here.

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Each summer you have helped us grow. In 2016, we moved from our New Jersey location to Camp Amahami, just outside of Binghamton, New York. We ran three weeks of camp and had 184 “camper weeks”. We do most of our counting by camper weeks. An individual camper that attends for two weeks counts as two camper weeks. Each year we have grown far beyond what I could have anticipated in 2015. In 2019 we will have just over 700 camper weeks, more than ten times what we served just five years ago.

Candid Conversations

I am proud to be a part of this growth, proud to see the impact of camp on each camper’s life year after year. I am proud that we grew this much without a huge marketing budget or big outside investment. We grew because the kids loved the program, parents loved the program, and our families told their friends. We were able to grow because we were able to build trust.

Laura and Klee spend countless hours on the phone talking with parents about what their child needs, how camp might provide it, and if Stomping Ground is a good fit. Stomping Ground has grown because of relationships and candid conversations. That is how we are approaching this capital campaign, and that hat is how we hope to build a sustainable Stomping Ground.

Product Market Fit

At this point we know we have a program and philosophy that kids and parents alike connect with. We have a tested model that has demand across socio-economic boundaries. We bootstrapped our way to product-market fit. Now we need your help. You have a chance to pour gas on this fire and drive Stomping Ground into the future.

At our current facility we are at capacity. Currently, four out of six of our sessions are totally full with the other two filling quickly. On top of that, we are unable to run more sessions and have been pushed to running sessions much later in the summer, which is not ideal for our staff or families. In 2019 we will run our ten days of staff orientation at a seperate camp and move to Amahami just 36 hours before campers arrive. As you can imagine, this is less than ideal and not sustainable.

We need your help. Your donation will not only provide sustainability for the organization, but it will also allow campers to attend camp and build on their experience. In the spirit of candor and trust building, below is our pro forma operating budget for our new facility.

Proforma Budget 5/19

Proforma Budget 5/19

I would love to talk more with you about this campaign, the impact of a gift, and the transformational power of camp. Let’s talk more.

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Jack Schott
Founder/Director
jack@campstompingground.org
585-451-5141

Our Team

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

- Buckminster Fuller


Stomping Ground is lead by a team of four purpose driven proud millennials challenging the status quo and reimaging what is possible through summer camp. In 2015 many people thought it was impossible for Jack and Laura to start a camp, have a trust based payment system, or empower campers to choose how to spend their time at camp. Five years later Stomping Ground is a leader in the camp industry and Laura and Jack are sought after speakers and trainers for camps across the country.

The Stomping Ground Team

 

Laura Kriegel

Founder/Director

Laura Kriegel
 

Laura is the heart and soul of Stomping Ground’s year-round team. She is the architect of our Circle System, driver behind our creativity, and is constantly pushing us to think about inclusion and equity in everything we do.

In a never ending quest to understand young people, creativity, and equity, Laura first pursued her BA from SUNY Purchase graduating with a degree in fine arts. Then spent 2 years traveling the country studying summer camps and youth organizations with Jack. They visited over 200 camps and 47 states, taking the best ideas in youth development, before starting Stomping Ground. She is currently finishing her masters in Social Work from Columbia University in New York.

 

Jack Schott

Founder/Director

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An engineer by training, Jack can’t help but breakdown problems. Where Laura pushes Stomping Ground to think bigger, try new things, and redefine what is possible, Jack analyzes the puzzle and outlines the plan.

As a co founder and facilitator of the Summer Camp Society, Jack leads a community of camp professionals around the country in the goal of improving and inspiring summer camp and taking the industry to new, inclusive and accessible places.

Jack is an innovator who is happy to throw away the rule book and experiment in order to find new way to accomplish goals. A long time Expert of Play, Jack’s skills and values set the scene for Stomping Ground’s Outrageous Activities and Night Games, reminding us that while not everything is possible, anything is possible.

 

Allison Klee

Camp Director

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Passionate about making an impact Allison Klee graduated in three years from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in Human Services. She had worked at Stomping Ground for three summers and fallen in love with the community, mission, and most of all each camper she had a chance to play with or help work through a difficult situation.

Not satisfied with the way things had always been done, she is driving Stomping Grounds storytelling, parent communication, and staff recruitment to the next level. She helps other camps onboard their staff, is an avid volunteer in the community, and never willing to settle for good enough. Selflessly, Klee makes so much more possible for Stomping Ground both in off season recruiting and with kids and staff each summer.

 

Ray Mahar

Director of Community Engagement

Ray Mahar

Ray is a self-starter, people person, who can’t help but make you smile. A graduate of the University of Dayton and lead singer/songwriter for A Girl Named Genny Ray excels on a microphone, listening for understanding, and chatting over coffee. Before joining Stomping Ground he worked with the Curbside Market at Foodlink, spent time on the radio in Nashville, and continues to volunteer with other local not-profits.

Ray believes in community and connection. He started our Be Kind Festival and Be Kind Tuesdays to connect organizations that are building a kinder Rochester. Join us the first Tuesday of every month at Three Heads Brewing to see him in action.

Mistakes - The Stomping Ground Origin Story

JACKPOT!

It is the first night of camp, most of the campers and staff have found their way back to their cabins and are settling in for the night. Laura is walking around with her flashlight and walkie talkie checking on the villages. As she heads into the youngest boys village, there is commotion and noise coming from one cabin. She opens the door to find one young camper holding all of the fake money from a monopoly game. He catches Laura’s eye and gives a knowing smirk before yelling, “JACKPOT” and throwing all of the colorful pieces of paper in the air. The other staff look at her obviously frustrated and concerned that the commotion will disrupt their intention to settle down for bed. Maddy, a brilliant 18 year old staff member swoops in and picks Mark up in her arms. His whole body calms down, his edges soften and he relaxes into the familiar place of being held. 

Mark is part of the foster care system and his life is in constant flux. Maddy’s instinct to be comforting and nurturing was exactly what Mark needed to feel secure, connected, and like he belonged. We find out lots more about Mark over the next couple weeks and won’t get into the details here, but will say he has a lot of chips stacked against him. BUT at camp he can just be Mark. He can just be a kid. 

We met Mark years ago working at a different camp, but Mark is why we started Stomping Ground. Mark and each camper that come to camp have a story, have a history, and a future. The best part about working at Stomping Ground is getting to be a place that values each individual for who they are in each moment.

CAMPING COAST TO COAST

Laura and Jack in 2012

Laura and Jack in 2012

I went to school for Industrial Engineering, the study of processes, at the University of Pittsburgh and Laura for Painting and Drawing at SUNY Purchase. After graduating we had no idea what to do or how to “spend the rest of our lives”, so we ran away. In classic millennial fashion, we packed up Laura’s 2000 Honda Civic and hit the road. We wanted to see the country, find ourselves, have an adventure… I think mostly we wanted to be together and didn’t know how. I had never been west of the Mississippi and we thought let’s take three months and have a road trip. 

So there we were, a packed up Honda Civic, no money, a hazy trip planned, and we have an idea. All throughout college we had worked at Camp Stella Maris outside of Rochester New York. We loved our time there and had interacted with a few other camps. We thought...

“Summer camps have beds... We need to sleep… How can we make this work?”  

We started cold emailing camp directors, offering to volunteer in exchange for a place to crash. Surprisingly camp directors from all over the country not only responded, but took us up on our offer. It was amazing. We documented our journey and shared the best parts of each camp with other directors. It turns out no one had really done this before, and our three month trip turned into a two and half year research project visiting over 200 camps and 47 states. We end up speaking at dozens of summer camp conferences (yes there are conferences for everything) and building a little business doing freelance work for camps. 

OUR FOUNDING TEAM

At one of these conferences we met Scott Arizala. Scott is camp famous. He travels the country speaking and working with camps, mostly on meeting kids where they are and being more inclusive. Scott asked us the question we heard all the time, “What are you doing with all this information? Are you going to start a camp?” We laughed. “You can’t start a camp without millions of dollars and we don’t have that, or rich relatives.” “Sure you can. I did.” He responded, “You can rent a camp like you rent a car. Come work for me and I’ll help you start yours.”

When he said work, he meant volunteer, but that’s just what we did. Scott and his business partner Sylvia van Meerten founded Camp Tall Tree, a camp for kids with autism and their siblings, in 2013. We volunteered with them for a week. Then we partnered with James Davis, a director we had worked with and new best friend, to start Stomping Ground. 

Quick aside about James. James was the director at the Vanderkamp Center outside of Syracuse, New York, when we met him. More on that visit here. He had previously been a professional poker player, now runs dailyfantasysportsrankings.com, is an unschooling dad, and shares that journey on his podcast with his wife Taylor. Needless to say James was an interesting camp director. We were hooked and spent the summer of 2014 working with him at Vanderkamp. 

Laura with some of our first campers 2015. All of them are still campers in 2019.

Laura with some of our first campers 2015. All of them are still campers in 2019.

MISTAKES.

With James, Syl, and Scott ready to be our initial board, we jumped in. We built a website, found a facility to rent, and started recruiting campers and staff. That first summer, 2015, we ran for one week and had 64 campers. It was awesome, and it was hard. We learned a lot, and the biggest thing we learned was that Stomping Ground will always be about mistakes. Making them, owning them, and working through them. 

Mistakes have become a cornerstone of camp. As adults we love to talk about how it’s good for kids to make mistakes and learn from them, but rarely do we let kids see the mistakes we make. That first summer we thought things would be perfect. Quickly we learned otherwise. The food was always late, staff got lost leading kids to activities, we messed up the schedule, made plans we couldn’t keep, and a million other mistakes. It was messy.  

It forced us to be honest. 

We often had to look our campers in the eye and admit we messed up. At the time this felt like failure. 

NOW IT FEELS LIKE FREEDOM.

Stomping Ground isn’t perfect. We have changed the schedule of camp every week that we have existed. Sometimes activities, we spend hours planning, end up flopping. Campers get frustrated, staff get frustrated, I get frustrated. It rains. It thunderstorms. We have to cancel activities. We try new things and sometimes they aren’t perfect. This imperfection has become a cornerstone of who we are as a camp because it is real

It’s hard to admit that we aren’t perfect, but it allows us, campers, staff, parents, board members, directors, all to find new and interesting ways to partner together. Being able to make mistakes in a safe supportive community allows all of us to try new things, learn, and find authentic connection. 

Brene Brown, research and author, once said “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn't feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” By accepting and owning our mistakes we hope to start the path to the feelings of worthiness within our community. I hope you will consider joining us this summer.

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JACK SCHOTT
CAMP DIRECTOR/LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
JACK@CAMPSTOMPINGGROUND.ORG
(585) 451-5141

Appeal Letter

To Whom it May Concern,

Stomping Ground is a not for profit sleepaway camp serving young people of all economic backgrounds from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and beyond. Stomping Ground is a sleepaway camp where kids have a chance to play, experience nature, and just be kids for a few weeks each summer. Stomping Ground is a sleepaway camp, but it is also so much more.

Think about your most impactful memories of childhood. Are they a linear path where you remember each day like a movie? No. Of course they aren’t. Our brains remember peak moments, transitions, and extreme situations. Those moments shape the way we see the world. Our lived experiences make us who we are. That is the power of going away to Stomping Ground. We are a sleepaway camp that gives kids a chance to learn to make decisions by making them, connect with people as different from themselves as possible, and let kids know they matter.

Young people join us at camp for a week at a time. They live fully immersed in a community where they have a chance to see what the world could be like and leave inspired to go out and create that world. We call this Radical Empathy, actively striving to understand all other people. Kids come to Stomping Ground and leave knowing they matter, more compassionate, and ready to stand up for what they believe in. You have a chance to make that possible.

2019 will be our fifth and largest summer. We have grown enormously since our first summer, serving 64 campers in 2015 to serving over 700 campers this summer. We have a camp that kids love and parents of all income levels want to send them too, but we need your help. Today we rent a property and are at capacity. We are turning families away.

Just fifteen minutes outside of Saratoga Springs, NY is a camp with 100 plus years of history. The site is currently unoccupied, with 60 acres of land, two spring fed lakes, a dining hall, and cabins with room for us to grow our capacity. The land is more beautiful and scenic than we could have possibly imagined, and has the structure to take Stomping Ground into the future, but it will require substantial renovations.

The property is available, families are clamoring for more Stomping Ground, the concept works. Now we need your help. You have the chance to give these kids and 1000s more a Stomping Ground. We are embarking on a capital campaign to give those kids the camp they deserve. We need your help to raise $2,000,000 and turn this dream into a reality.

You have a chance to give kids from Rochester, and all over, friendships, and experiences that will shape the way the think about community, decisions, and relationships for generations.

They say you are the combination of the five people you spend the most time with. For most of us that means a lot of folks that are mostly like us. By supporting this campaign you give kids a chance to change that. To play, laugh, and cry with people from different neighborhoods, communities, backgrounds, ethnicities, and so much more.

Brene Brown says “It’s hard to hate people up close, move in.”

Let’s not wait for politicians or pundits to solve our problems. Let’s invest in our young people. Let’s Give them a chance to “move in” and breakdown the barriers that divide us.

We would love to talk more. I hope you will consider supporting our campaign.

With Love,

Jack Schott
Camp Stomping Ground Director
585-451-5141
jack@campstompingground.org
EIN: 81-4475489