As soon as I turned into the camp’s driveway on Tuesday a news story about the school we are working with this week came on the radio. The excitement of being outside with the students this week mixed with the sadness of hearing a student that I had recently gotten to know in the Adirondacks tell the story of their school potentially closing and the impact it would have on them.

We have partnered with Northeast High School to provide a day-long community-building retreat for each grade at Rotary Camp Sunshine. This is the third year we have done this but the first year the program we designed had been implemented in full. In September 30 students travelled to the SUNY Environmental Science Forestry Campus for a leadership retreat. Last week we had a training session that prepared them to transfer what they learned to this experience.

It is now Thursday, three days into the retreat series and as I write this student leaders are mastrefully guiding their junior classmates through a day of smores around a campfire, miniature golf, arts and crafts, and team-building games like rock scissors paper entourage.

This day almost didn’t happen. The chaos of urban education being what it is the buses fell through at the last minute. We made a decision to do whatever it took to give the 250 students who had signed up an opportunity to have a day at camp, no matter what.

These young people deserve a day of relationship building. They deserve to learn about the world beyond the city limits. They deserve to find happiness in nature.

Tonight the school board will most likely vote to close their school. There seems to be little that can be done at this point, but I am grateful that we could do something to give them faith in the adults around them and a chance to know a world where the sun shines on them.

So many people came together to make these retreats happen. Their teachers. Their parents. Their school administrators. Community funders. The students. Our staff. Our supporters.

I am writing this to share this story about the amazing things that can happen with city schools if we work together. I am also writing this to ask you, if you are able, to join us in supporting this experience and others like it. The last-minute changes stressed our budget. We will figure it out but you can help make sure this trip and others like it are possible with a donation to Rochester Ecology Partners. We appreciate any support you can provide. We know our nature-based learning and community programs like this make a difference and I am sure that this work is what we need to change the story of our city and the children that live in it.


Chris Widmaier
Executive Director
Rochester Ecology Partners

Thanks to AES

We appreciate our partner AES Energy for providing funding to make this day happen.

Today was joyful. No worries. No Stress. No responsibilities. Smiles, laughter, friends, nature, and new opportunities. Today was a day that will become a core memory of what it meant to be part of the Northeast Family.