WARRENTON — The rows of young campers stood on their tiptoes and craned their necks toward the back of Warrior Hall Friday at the Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center. A look of surprise plastered on their faces, they watched as the counselors they had bonded with the past week filed in, their Camp RosenbaumT-shirts replaced by military fatigues, police and fire uniforms.
Camp Rosenbaum, a unique summer camp experience doubling as a crash course in good citizenship, wrapped up its 46th year Friday. Amid a chorus of hugs, well-wishes and high-fives, the corps of volunteers sent home 160 low-income youth with lasting childhood memories and a new respect for those in uniform.
Camp Rosenbaum is named after the late Fred Rosenbaum, a Holocaust refugee and Oregon luminary. The camp is now organized by the Oregon National Guard, Portland Police Bureau and housing agency Home Forward. Housing authorities around the Portland metro area, central, southern and coastal Oregon find kids age 9 to 11 to attend. Police, fire and housing agencies provide the volunteers, who outnumber campers, providing around-the-clock activities and life lessons in being good citizens.
All about the kids
Doran Gritton, a 10-year-old from Independence, laid on Sunset Beach Thursday while a couple of his new friends slowly buried his body in the sand.
“I actually have never been this close” to the ocean before, Gritton said, waiting for his turn with the counselors clad in wetsuits, taking groups of life-vested children to frolic in the waves.
Camp Rosenbaum is full of firsts for kids, who get to play on the beach, build sandcastles, ride horses, visit Fort Clatsop, slide down hills on cardboard boxes, fish for trout, cook s’mores, make leather and bead art and shoot fire hoses.
“A lot of these kids don’t even get three meals a day,” said Melissa Sonsalla, an employee of Home Forward and Camp Rosenbaum’s sole staffer. “Here they do.”
Sonsalla said the camp only takes about 60 percent of applicants, mostly from the Portland metro area. The kids who apply represent only a fraction of the more than 1,000 kids in the Portland metro alone who are eligible, she said. Along with their artistic creations, kids get to take home clothes, shoes and books collected by volunteers.
“The advantage we have here is that people are so committed to camp,” Sonsalla said, adding that many of the volunteers at camp spend the year doing fundraisers and gathering supplies for their activities, before spending an entire week with the kids.
Hearts and minds
Outside a log cabin at Camp Rilea Thursday, officers Matt Huspek and David McCarthy let kids crawl all over their police cruiser and motorcycles, after taking them through Gang Resistance Education and Training, an officer-taught program covering youth violence, delinquency and gang involvement.
“We’re trying to encourage them to have a community that’s much better than a gang,” McCarthy said, adding it helps giving kids an early positive experience with police.
Sonsalla said Portland police officers, who often worked as guards at the camp, became more involved in the 1990s after seeing the benefit of reaching out to kids early, and started joining the staff as counselors.
Another supporter of the camp is Jim Cunningham, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot and general, and a former commander of the Oregon Air National Guard. Cunningham, who cuts out the pinewood racers for a camp derby among children, said he wasn’t too enamored initially about coming to camp, but was hooked within the first day.
“It’s in my best interest that these become productive citizens,” said Cunningham, who also works with youth offenders trying to complete high school. “Bottom line is, we all have a vested interest in these kids.”
At age 12, Rosenbaum escaped out the window of his schoolhouse in Vienna, Austria, fleeing the Nazis. He was taken in by the Church of England before reuniting with his parents two years later and moving to Aberdeen, Washington, in 1941.
The experience defined Rosenbaum, who joined the U.S. Army at 18, wanting to fight Nazis, but he was deployed to the Philippines. After the war, Rosenbaum was an insurance salesman. He retired as a brigadier general from the Oregon Air National Guard and served for 15 years as the director of the Housing Authority of Portland, two worlds that came together during a summer family vacation to Gearhart that included a trip to an empty Camp Rilea.
“I just remember him walking around and saying ‘What a waste,’” said his daughter, Lori Rosenbaum-Krasnowsky, who has attended and volunteered at camp most of her life.
Rosenbaum went all the way to the governor with his idea, and the Air National Guard/Housing Authority of Portland Camp started in 1970, renamed after its founder within a few years.
Underpinning each day of camp are Rosenbaum’s ethics of good citizenship, such as being loyal, fair, sharing, caring and working together. Rosenbaum died in 2010, but several of his descendants still volunteer at the camp, carrying out his legacy.
“He grew to admire the country he was adopted into,” Rosenbaum-Krasnowsky said of her father. “Bottom line, this was his way of giving back and teaching kids to be good citizens.”