YMCA of Austin receives major gift to fund a new, accessible overnight camp

YMCA Camp Cypress Aerial

A gift from the late philanthropists George Yonge is set to become the YMCA of Austin‘s first overnight camp in 2019, thanks to a $6.25 million gift from the Moody Foundation of Galveston. The camp aims to become the most accessible and affordable camp and retreat center in the region.

The property, called Camp Cypress, is on 85 acres of wilderness located along a half mile stretch of Onion Creek in Buda. Currently, the YMCA offer overnight tent camping and daytime activities like archery and trail running. The overnight camp is still in the design phase with a plan to break ground on overnight camp facilities and activities in August 2019.

The gift from the Moody Foundation, announced this past week, brings the YMCA of Austin’s total to $15 million of its fundraising goal to raise $18 million for the first phase of Camp Cypress. The initial phase will include a dining hall, treehouse cabins, two bunk cabin villages, a 12,000-square-foot enclosed competition aquatic center, 700-foot dual zip lines, climbing wall, archery range, ropes course, entertainment amphitheater, open-air sports space and accessible trails, all on the 85-acre property. It will serve approximately 250 overnight campers.

While the camp will feature modern amenities and design, the YMCA’s goal is to ensure it’s accessible to as many Austinites as possible.

“From the YMCA perspective, ‘accessible’ means a few different things,” said Andrew Wiggins, District Executive Director overseeing camp operations. Wiggins says ensuring the camp is financially accessible is a goal consistent with the YMCA’s other programs. Currently, YMCA of Austin operates 20 day camps for school-age children in the summer and offers financial assistance to 20-25 percent of attendees, he said. “Given the higher price of overnight camp, we’re going to offer even more financial aid. This is not going to be a camp for other people,” he said, “it’s going to be a camp for all.”

Wiggins says that it’s proximity to Austin, about a 15-minute drive from downtown, means the camp will be geographically accessible to most Central Texans. “When you get there, it has this advantage of being close to Austin, but being tucked down and by Onion Creek,” Wiggins said. “You really do feel like you’re in this natural oasis.”

Accessibility also means ensuring that kids and adults with disabilities will have the same access to the facilities and amenities that those without disabilities do. James Finck, President and CEO of YMCA, said, “We believe all kids should have this no matter what their special needs.”

Right now, the YMCA of Austin is the largest YMCA in the nation without a specific campus for overnight camping and related activities. The nonprofit serves 65,000 members on a $30 million budget with eight branches in three counties. Fink says the budget has more than doubled since he joined in 2008. “We’re trying to keep pace,” he said. “As Austin grows, the Y should grow, too.”

He adds that the camp had sat undeveloped for years until Yonge, the donor, inquired about it before he passed away in January 2017. “When you look at organized outdoor camping, the Y probably invented it. But in Austin, our priorities have been different,” he said, “and camps are the cheapest thing to build or run.” But, he adds, he believes that of all the other programs the Y offers, the overnight camp will have the most impact on kids’ lives.

PHOTO: Rendering of aerial view of planned Camp Cypress overnight camp. 

NOTE: This story was also published in the Austin American-Statesman on March 10, 2018.

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