Spotlight on Heritage Grant Recipient Sherwood Forest
Just like the legendary European woodland of the same name, Sherwood Forest holds a bit of magic for the 200+ kids that experience it every summer. Situated on over 400 acres of secluded Ozark forest land outside Lesterville, MO, the camp is often the only taste of nature many of the campers, primarily from metro St. Louis, have ever had. “The kids are discovering so many new things and, most of all, recognizing who they really are without their ‘school persona’,” says Addie Bond, Executive Director of Sherwood Forest.
For 85 years, Sherwood Forest has offered a residential summer camp for kids, grades 1 through 9, who are living at or below the poverty level, with the goal of not only spending time outdoors but fostering a love for learning and important life skills. Camp sessions are divided by grade level and ramp up in teamwork and leadership training as the campers age, culminating in a 12-day trip to Washington, D.C. for 9th graders, in which they visit college campuses and historical sites, and participate in community service along the way.
Through Supports for Success, campers can continue to engage with Sherwood Forest after 9th grade until they transition out of high school, working with staff members to develop action plans, and participating in education opportunities, job skills development and group gatherings. “Many are essentially growing up with us,” says Bond.
The storied organization is a recent recipient of the YouthBridge Heritage Grant and has a YouthBridge-managed endowment fund. During the pandemic, Sherwood Forest also received support through YouthBridge’s Nonprofit Recovery and Resiliency Fund. “They have been such an amazing community partner to us in so many ways,” says Bond. Especially helpful, she says, has been YouthBridge’s willingness to educate them on ways to build up the endowment fund and potential funders they should speak with, as well as including Board members in the process. “Not everyone is open to involving the Board, but they encourage their participation because they know how valuable they can be in development and fundraising.”
With the core capacity assessment aspect of the Heritage Grant, Bond hopes to be able to validate or redirect Sherwood Forest’s current strategic plan. “I’m excited for the study to highlight the areas where we can generate revenue and build capacity, so that we can continue to serve more kids,” she says. Sherwood Forest never charges any family more than $75 – or what they are able to pay – for the 4-week camp and also assists with what each camper will need. “We always have to think about how to offset these costs.”
One area that generates revenue is the Outdoor Education and Experiences Sherwood Forest offers year-round to schools and youth organizations. Bond hopes to eventually be able to devote a staff member full-time to managing this program and looking for ways to expand the model. A full-time Program Coordinator also is on the list, “so that we can better keep in contact with parents in between camps and make sure they don’t fall off the radar,” she says. “We want families to feel supported and kids to be able to grow and develop with Sherwood Forest, so it’s important that we are cultivating these relationships.”
Bond is a 19-year veteran of Sherwood Forest, having served in “pretty much every role,” she says, from executive assistant to food service manager. “I love that we’re rooted in tradition but not stuck in them. We’re always looking at what kids need today, like more access to STEM and support for social-emotional health, and meeting them where they are. It’s a vibrant mission and I’m so happy to be part of it.”