Follow Buffet’s lead — support Camp CaPella

Posted March 07, 2010, at 5:35 p.m.

“Dana, this is Doris Buffett. I’ll be at Camp CaPella in 20 minutes!”

That’s how one of the most influential business families in the country today does its business of philanthropy — that is, personally.

Forbes magazine lists Warren Buffett as the wealthiest man in America. His sister Doris manages the Sunshine Lady Foundation with both a passion and a personal approach unlike anything we are used to seeing in the nonprofit world. This is in an environment where nearly everything, it seems — including grant applications — is done online. That’s impersonal, and you never know if anyone actually reads what you wrote.

Instead, Doris Buffett picks up the phone.

It was nearly two years ago that Doris first called me. “You probably have heard of my family and my brother Warren. I run a family foundation, the Sunshine Lady Foundation, and I read a story about Camp CaPella. I’d like you to send me more information about your camp.”

Thus began a very candid, straightforward, upfront and yes, a fun relationship between Camp CaPella and Doris Buffett — not just the Sunshine Lady Foundation, but the woman who started it.

Then one day in July with only a 20-minute notice, she drove to Camp CaPella to have a look around and see for herself. And like anyone who spends some time at Camp CaPella, it didn’t take long for her to “get it.”

She watched the kids at snack time, then story time. She talked with a few campers, including one little girl with cerebral palsy in her wheelchair. In a barely audible voice but with a big smile, she asked Doris about visiting “her” (the little girl’s) camp.

That sealed the deal. Of course I had no idea what the deal was. But the campers did all the selling, and they did it by just being themselves — kids with all kinds of disabilities, having fun, playing, just like any other kid in a place where everyone is accepted, regardless of their challenges in life.

Doris left understanding the importance of this camp and why our communities have struggled so hard to keep it alive.

So what could Doris do to help keep our beloved camp alive and well for years to come? Well, she doesn’t believe in handouts. Rather, she is giving us a hand up.

She wants to give Camp CaPella a solid foundation to build on, and she wants to see that we and our communities will continue to build and sustain Camp CaPella. She wants to know that members of the board of directors will dig in and be actively involved in and committed to the cause. She wants to build collaborative efforts with other people who support Camp CaPella.

After her visit to the camp, she met with key board members from Camp CaPella and United Cerebral Palsy of Maine. She was clear and decisive. We couldn’t build the camp and ask people for capital improvements on property that Camp CaPella didn’t own. UCP of Maine owned the property.

We had no kind of financial safety net. We had to raise every dime of our operating costs every year, with no state funds or federal funds or economic stimulus funds. Rather we had to ask contributors just to dig in their pockets and sponsor a child to camp.

So Doris Buffett said she would buy the camp for Camp CaPella, while expecting a very good deal from UCP of Maine. She asked that UCP of Maine place the proceeds from the purchase into a trust fund that would sponsor children and adults to Camp CaPella every year. She also offered to provide matching funds to help build an endowment for Camp CaPella as well. Still we must prove that we can step up to the plate and earn the future opportunities of this gift of ownership.

And Doris quipped: “I am 83 years old, so you need to act quickly on this offer.”

So where do we go from here? Remember that this gift is a “hand up.” Camp CaPella must still raise all our operating funding and find people, service organizations and businesses to sponsor kids to camp. In addition, sometime this year we have to match her $65,000 in challenge grants to be placed in an endowment fund to begin building that financial safety net.

Camp CaPella has earned the support of one of this country’s most highly respected business families and from a lady who does her homework before investing in giving to others. And she does it in a personal way.

We hope she will serve as an inspiration to us all. How about you? Can we earn your help and support? Sponsor a child with disabilities to Camp CaPella and enable memories for a lifetime for kids who will treasure them. That’s good for all of us, a worthy purpose we can all share.

Dana Mosher is the executive director of Camp CaPella. With handicapped-accessible facilities on Phillips Lake in Dedham, Camp CaPella provides year-round recreation to children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.

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