Not far up Emigration Canyon, tucked into a hillside amongst native scrub and mature shade trees, lies a 25-acre complex of cabins, trails and equestrian facilities that resembles a typical summer camp or vacation retreat. But there is nothing typical about the people who come here.
Nearly everyone has heard of Camp Kostopulos, or ‘Camp K,’ as it is affectionately known, but not everyone knows what the camp does or the extent of its influence on the people it serves.
Established in 1967, in memory of philanthropists Dan and Helen Kostopulos, the camp caters to people with myriad physical and mental disabilities and provides them with developmental and experiential opportunities that are uniquely tailored to each camper’s specific needs. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Camp K is just for children. “Actually,” says Natalie Norris, the camp’s administrative manager, “our campers range in age from 8 to 88.”
Natalie became the administrative manager two-and-a-half years ago. Before that she was a part-time camp counselor. “I didn’t know it would touch my heart as much as it has,” she says, “and I’ve wanted to stay a part of the camp ever since. These kids and adults—this whole population makes you realize more about yourself than anything you could ever do for them.”
“It’s a pretty nice place to be, up in the mountains,” Natalie continues, “and the people we serve, and to put smiles on people’s faces every day—just to be a part of that is an amazing experience.”
Mircea Divricean started as a counselor at Camp K in 1998 and has worn a lot of hats since then. Divricean came back full-time in 2001, filling half a dozen jobs before becoming the camp’s current president and CEO. “In the last 10 or 15 years we’ve seen the modern growth of Camp K,” he says, “and we built a lot of different facilities and we extended the programs year-round.”
Far more than just a summer camp, team and community building, equestrian skills and specialty programs are the heart of the Camp’s mission to provide a quality experience. Day camps, field trips, and community-based opportunities provide campers with a sense of fulfillment and foster a spirit of inclusion that lasts all year long.
According to Divricean, “With its year-round opportunities, the camp needed a new name so people wouldn’t think it was just a summer camp. The Kostopulos Dream Foundation is the mothership of all the programs we have.”
The Dream Foundation also extended the camp’s reach from a strictly local organization to a worldwide presence, welcoming campers and staff from dozens of countries. Many of this year’s staffers are from the United Kingdom, and volunteers come from near and far.
The general public can participate in the team building programs, which consist of high and low ropes courses, zip lines and a climbing wall, and anyone can enjoy the equestrian facilities, with or without lessons, for a reasonable fee.
“We are a charity,” says Divricean, “and it is extremely hard to provide the services we do with the resources we have. Every single support we get from the community, whether it’s monetary or volunteering, makes a huge difference in being able to deliver the programs.”
Almost 50 years after it began, Dan and Helen’s gift continues to be the foundation upon which dreams are built. §
Camp K is located at 4180 E. Emigration Canyon Road in Salt Lake City, and online at campk.org.