Camp Opportunity has been serving the children of Santa Cruz County since 1989.
Camp Opportunity was inspired by Bob Slassor after he attended a similar camp in Washington State. Bob was part of a church that owned a local conference grounds in Santa Cruz, and he believed that this location was the perfect place to provide this summer camp experience for children at risk of abuse or neglect in Santa Cruz County.
Bob contacted Family & Children’s Services of Santa Cruz County and began discussions of how to partner with the department to facilitate this camp. An agreement was reached that the County would be the primary referral source and the camp would have a camp social worker to ensure the safety and well-being of the campers and provide support to the volunteers. Camp would be free to all campers and all staff would be volunteers. Additionally, it was made clear that while the church would be a key member in the development and implementation of this camp, Camp Opportunity would not be a religious program. The program would focus on increasing self-esteem and helping children overcome challenges in their lives, in an environment where differences were celebrated and accepted.
After securing funds through local business owners, rotary clubs and private donations, the first camp was held in July of 1989 at the conference grounds in the hills of Santa Cruz County. For the first two years there was just one session, for ages 8-10, and approximately 40 children attended each summer. While the goal was to have each camper have their own individual counselor, for these first two years this was a challenge and some counselors had two campers each.
By the end of 1990, it was clear that enough funds had been raised to support two separate one-week sessions, expand the age limit and increase the total number of children served. Since that time, Camp Opportunity has held two one-week sessions each summer, (ages 8-10 and 11-13) and has been able to accommodate 30-35 campers each session, each with their own individual counselor.
We’ve adjusted our program as needed over the years to ensure we continue to remain a viable program, including updating our self-esteem/skills building curriculum, developing a structure training, and expanding our primary camper referral sources. We now have four primary referral sources (Family & Children’s Services, The Parents Center, Children’s Behavioral Health, and CASA of Santa Cruz County) in our community, each of which work directly with our target population and each of which have a seat on our board.
Over the past several decades, Camp Opportunity has had a positive impact on generations of children, many of whom grow up to become some of camp's most dedicated volunteers. John Skinner is one of those children. When he attended the first camp as a camper in 1989, he dreamed of being the camp director one day and told everyone that was what he wanted to be when he grew up. In 2012 his dream came true when he and his wife became the directors of camp.