The weeklong program has been free since its inception in 1996 but with the loss of two of its biggest fundraisers and dried-up grants, organizers are asking campers for a donation of $50.
Meanwhile, the police-led organization is doing what it can to raise money for scholarships for those who cannot afford that donation.
"This year some of the fundraisers are not happening," John LeClair, program coordinator, said on Tuesday. "We always used to say in our graduations that we'd rather close the camp than charge for it. But in reality, when we started looking at how much this does for the kids, we can't close it. So, unfortunately, we kind of have to swallow our pride and for the first time and, hopefully the last time, we are going to have to ask for a $50 donation."
The camp started as an offshoot of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programs in local elementary and middle schools in 1996 from state grants. That funding ended in 2002 and North Adams Police Commissioner E. John Morocco secured funding from federal sources. Those sources dried up in 2008 and for the last three years the program was supported by fundraisers.
However, a Greenfield event that they did concessions for and the ROPES Solid Ground camping sites at Noel Field, tied in with last year's Wilco Solid Sound Festival, will not be happening. Organizers are hoping to get through this year by asking for donations. Next year, when Solid Sound returns, the group believes the camping and new fundraisers can make the program free again.
"We can't, with a good conscience, put on an $11,000 camp without knowing where the money is coming from," police Lt. David Sacco, one of the camp's founding members, said. "It's humbling to do this ... We're at an economic crossroads."
The camp, which has two one-week sections, is an all-day program run by local police, firefighters and teachers. The operational costs cover annual course and equipment inspections, food, T-shirts and bottled water. The $50 figure each will be enough to cover the expenses for the nearly 300 children that attend each summer, LeClair said.
"No funds from this donation goes to salaries," LeClair emphasized, adding that the camp's employees are paid through their respective agencies.
Registration for the camps begin on March 1 and organizers don't want parents worrying about the cost. They will be hosting their annual golf tournament in June and comedian Bucky Lewis will be performing in April to help raise money for scholarships.
"We still won't turn anybody away," LeClair said. "We're very aware of the economics of the area."
To cut costs, the group has delayed further expansion to the course. Organizers have been trying to add elements to the course every couple of years but will hold off while they manage finances.
The camp will be held the week of July 16 and the week of Aug. 6 at Historic Valley Campground at Windsor Lake. It is open to fifth- and sixth-graders, depending on when the student's school typically runs a DARE program, in Adams, Clarksburg, Cheshire, Lanesborough, North Adams, Pittsfield and Williamstown. It runs from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
While it may be "humbling" to ask for support, Sacco said that "it's better than closing the doors." The organization will accept personal donations as well to increase the number of scholarships, he said.
Donations can be made out to the Northern Berkshire Youth ROPES Program and mailed to Attn: ROPES, c/o North Adams Police Department, 11 Summer St., North Adams, MA 01247.
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I'm really disapointed that Solid Ground isn't coming back this year! It was a great bonding experience for the ROPES mentors, and it raised a ton of money to find the camp! Although the motto always was "We'll close this camp before we make kids pay", I'm so thankful that it is remaining open. It has become a crucial part of my summers and I'm thankful for every lesson it's taught me.
I Agree. Im told the Officers do donate their time during fundraising but the overtime money they get paid during both camps is astronomical. That should be abolished to help the budget or just stop the camp.
I'm ok with city and towns paying for staff to run the ROPES program. My concern is if a police officer or teacher works 40 hrs that week and puts in 20 hrs at the ROPES course is the city paying that worker time and half? I don't know all the facts and I expect the workers must put in a ton of free hours getting the course ready. I always understood this was run solely by voluteers and applauded those involved. It's still a wonderful program that should not go away.