Way More than Camp

Ah, summer camp. It can conjure up memories of songs by the campfire, rain on the rooftops and a sky filled with stars. New friends and paths to explore. Letters home, and lots and lots of firsts: first swim in a lake, first attempt with a bow and arrow, first feelings of independence. These are the experiences of over 360 campers every summer at Sherwood Forest…along with way more.
“Our kids are discovering creative interests, building relationships, seeing themselves as leaders, really starting to come into their own,” says Libby Sunkari, Sherwood Forest Community Relations Manager. Serving children that live at or below the poverty line, primarily from the metro St. Louis area, Sherwood Forest is often their only taste of nature, their only time interacting with people outside of their neighborhood, says Sunkari. “It’s about finding your inner strengths, but also learning acceptance of others.”

Established over 80 years ago on a rented site at Cuivre River State Park , Sherwood Forest has been including, integrating and expanding to reach more kids ever since. Today, the camp owns 400 acres of land outside of Lesterville, MO, where it hosts a month-long summer program for more than 360 campers, as well as year-round outdoor education for close to 1,000 students in partnership with schools and youth organizations.

This past fall, Sherwood Forest completed a capital campaign, appropriately named “Way More than Camp,” which secured funding for the restoration and building of new facilities to accommodate continued growth. A high priority was the capacity to allow every child that begins the camp’s unique, evidence-based programming to continue with it for years to come. (Sherwood Forest subsidizes over 98% of camp costs for families.) “A child who begins our programs at age 6 or 7 has the opportunity to come back each year and essentially ‘grow up’ with Sherwood Forest,” explains Sunkari.

Beginning with Quest for first graders through Supports for Success for 10th, 11th and 12th graders, Sherwood balances traditional camp activities with programs that inspire a love of learning and teach important life skills such as teamwork, responsibility and leadership. “They’re areas that research has shown are critical to academic achievement and success as an adult,” says Sunkari. The camp boasts high success rates of its own, with 100% of alumni from its Leadership Training program, which starts in 6th grade, graduating from high school, and 94% of alumni that have gotten back in touch with the organization now living economically self-sufficient lives.

One such graduate, Sheryl Williams, was recently honored by the organization with the Spirit of the Fire Award, which recognizes distinguished Sherwood Forest Alumni. After graduating from the Leadership Program in 1979, Sheryl went on to earn a law degree from Washington University and have a successful career in the US Marine Corps, becoming the first black female from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps to earn the rank of Colonel. She attributes much of her foundation to Sherwood Forest, where she was “encouraged to be a leader,” she says.

“Our hope is that every camper will come away with great memories and, more importantly, greater understanding of and belief in their potential,” says Sunkari.