Sun Outdoors Charity

Sun Outdoors staff members’ charitable efforts include volunteering at special events to raise money for animal shelters.

Jim Button loves giving back to his community.

The co-owner and operator of Evergreen Campsites and Resorts in Wild Rose, Wis., has been volunteering with the Saxeville-Springwater Fire Department ever since a devastating tornado ripped through his area in 1988. His son, Joseph, has joined him as a volunteer firefighter as well.

His park also hosts fundraising events from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. every Sunday during the summer camping season to raise money for worthwhile causes. This year, the park raised over $20,000, half of which it donated to Children’s Wisconsin, a pediatric hospital in Milwaukee. The park also donated $5,000 to Lucky Dog Animal Rescues and $5,000 for the Hospitality Program at Fox Valley Technical College in Applewood, Wis.

“There are so many ways to give back,” Button said. “In today’s world, we are fortunate to have what we have. It’s those little acts of kindness that go a long way.”

Button said his campers enjoy participating in fundraisers for worthwhile causes.

“They are just in awe when we tell them where we donate the money to,” he said. “They feel good knowing our campground is a business that is helping people.”

Across the country, campgrounds, RV parks and resorts are raising ever-increasing amounts of money for a variety of charitable causes that benefit people in their communities. Park operators also tell WOODALLSCM.com (WCM) they believe their campers like to see them supporting charitable efforts.

“I think it helps business. People like to see businesses paying it forward,” said Matt Anderson, at Camp Chautauqua in Mayville, N.Y., who organizes a fundraising auction every summer that raises tens of thousands of dollars for Camp Good Days and Special Times, a Mendon, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization that offers free camps, special activities and other services for children suffering from cancer.

“It makes everybody feel warm and bubbly inside,” Anderson said of the auction, which raised $112,000 in 2022 alone. “We want to do more next year.”

Camp Chautauqua and other parks affiliated with the Campground Owners of New York (CONY) collectively raised $265,593.34 for Camp Good Days in 2022, an all-time record for the association, which has raised $1,226,506.91 for Camp Good Days since the association started supporting the nonprofit organization in 2012.

Efforts to combat cancer and support children and families suffering from the terminal disease are widely supported by privately owned and operated campgrounds and RV parks across the country.

Over the past 37 years, Care Camps has established itself as the campground industry’s largest coordinated effort to raise money for children and their families to attend camps, which have specially trained medical staff and counselors that help kids learn to cope with the emotional trauma they experience as a result of their cancer diagnosis.

Evergreen Donation

Pictured left to right: Whitney Lien, Dawn Button, Jim Button

These camps are not held at KOA campgrounds, although KOA’s corporate-owned campgrounds and franchisees, are the largest group of donors to the charity. Non-KOA campgrounds also contribute to Care Camps, however, including The Jenkins Organization in Houston, Texas, which owns and operates campgrounds across the country. Since its inception, Care Camps has raised more than $18 million for 139 cancer camps across North America, including 17 in Canada, and the majority of that funding has come directly from the collaborative efforts of the KOA team. In 2022, Care Camps received $717,269 from direct campground support, according to Erica Lanter, Care Camps’ marketing and communications manager.

Other initiatives are also being launched by private park operators to provide counseling and emotional support to children with cancer along with their families.

For the past two years, Sun Outdoors has hosted Camp Quality USA at its properties. Camp Quality is a nonprofit organization that serves children with cancer and their families by providing year-round programs, experiences and companionship at no cost. The programs are designed to foster the building of new friendships, emotional strength and life skills in a stress-free environment. Over the past two years, more than 200 children with cancer and their families have experienced a Sun Outdoors property as a result of the partnership with Camp Quality.

While cancer is a key area of focus, private parks support nonprofit organizations targeting a variety of other issues, too, from food insecurity and helping children and senior citizens and providing housing and emotional support dogs for veterans suffering from stress and anxiety.

Jennifer Ludovice, vice president of public relations for Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties, said ELS provided financial support to numerous nonprofit organizations this past year through the company’s “Making a Difference” program.

“We supported several food banks, such as Feeding Tampa Bay, San Benito Food Pantry, Harry Chapin Food Bank, Just One Project and Arizona Brainfood,” Ludovice said, noting that ELS also provided support for several senior citizen resource centers, including Silver Key Senior Services in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Pueblo Senior Resource Development Agency in Pueblo, Colo.; and The Senior Hub in Northglenn, Colo.

“We also donated to organizations such as Habitat For Humanity, Meals on Wheels and the National Child Safety Council,” she said. “Donations were made to groups in our properties that work to help others in need, and individuals in our properties who generously volunteer their time and talents to assist their neighbors.”

For its part, Ocean City, Md.-based Blue Water Development has a program called “Blue Water Gives Back,” which supports a variety of humanitarian initiatives. This year, for example, Blue Water donated 4.4 acres of land to Diakonia, a 50-year-old Ocean City-based nonprofit organization that provides housing and resources to help those in need. Blue Water donated land that will enable Diakonia to build a new facility to better support those in need and provide 42 affordable housing units. Last year, Blue Water donated $150,000 to Diakonia to support their expansion.

Sun Outdoors, for its part, launched a Sun Unity Ambassador Program in 2021, which is designed to empower passionate team members across the company to engage in volunteerism, fundraising and otherwise establish relationships with charitable organizations in their local communities. While Sun’s charitable efforts in 2022 included humanitarian efforts at locations too numerous to mention here, the following examples provided by Sun and its management teams highlight the wide range of humanitarian efforts Sun parks are supporting across the country:

  • Palm Creek Resorts & Residences in Casa Grande, Ariz.: This park held a Cancer Awareness Week in 2022 and raised nearly $34,000 to benefit the Alliance Cancer Support Center in Casa Grande.
  • River’s Rest Marina and Resort in Charles City, Va.: This park participated in “Shop with a Sheriff” in partnership with local schools and the Sheriff’s Office to support children in need for the holidays.
  • Sun Outdoors Chesapeake Bay in Temperanceville, Va.: This park raised $7,528 for breast cancer research at its annual Think Pink event.
  • Sun Outdoors Frontier Town in Berlin, Md.: This park raised money for several humanitarian efforts in 2022, including a duck race where guests purchased ducks that raced around the lazy river. The first duck around won a future stay at the property. All money collected, about $2,000, was donated to a local family in need — the Draheim family, whose four-year-old child was diagnosed with brain cancer.
  • Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.: This park raised $500 through a chili cookoff and lemonade stand to benefit Isaiah 117 House, a nonprofit organization that supports foster children.
  • Sun Outdoors Sarasota in Sarasota, Fla.: The Sun Unity Ambassador at this park established a partnership with the Humane Society of Sarasota County to sponsor adoptions of companion animals for military veterans. These animals reduce veterans’ stress and anxiety levels, mitigate depression, ease social reintegration and provide comfort while restoring confidence in affected veterans. Sun’s support enables the Humane Society to waive adoption fees for about 100 veterans per year in the Sarasota County service area.
  • Sun Outdoors St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Fla. In early 2022, team members and guests donated 150 amenity kits, socks, snacks and toiletries to the Homeless Coalition of St. John’s County, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and services to families experiencing homelessness so they can stay intact, stabilize their lives, save for affordable, permanent housing and break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

CONY members celebrate their record donation of $265,593.34 to Camp Good Days for 2022. Since 2012, CONY members have raised $1,226,506.91 for the nonprofit camp for children with cancer.

Sun also launched a matching campaign last fall and raised more than $47,000 for the American Red Cross to support disaster relief efforts to benefit those affected by Hurricane Ian in southwest Florida. Employees at Sun’s corporate offices and parks have also participated in annual Heart Walks to raise funds for the American Heart Association.

Even former private park operators continue to support charitable efforts across the country, including George O’Leary, who made sizable donations in 2022 to Sacred Heart Southern Missions of Walls, Miss., which provides food for nearly 30,000 hungry people a year across five counties in northwest Mississippi. The funding O’Leary provided will enable Sacred Heart Southern Missions to purchase two more walk-in freezers, tripling its cold storage capacity. The new freezers will not only enable Sacred Heart to store more food, but healthy produce, dairy products and frozen meats. O’Leary said he also planned to provide funding for a new driveway and parking lot for the organization’s food storage facility and other improvements.

“I grew up during the Great Depression,” O’Leary recalled, “and while my family had enough to eat, my mother often shared stories from her grandfather about his family hauling grain to Waterford for export to England during the Irish Famine, and how several of the men he saw sitting along the roadside on the way to Waterford were dead when they came back on the same road a few days later. Dead from starvation.”

Campground industry vendors also support various charitable causes across the country, including It’s All About Satellites, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based contractor that specializes in broadband Internet, Wi-Fi and TV systems. The company made a significant donation in November to Silver Horizons, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit organization that helps roughly 4,000 low-income senior citizens with basic expenses, including groceries, household bills and home repairs.

Meanwhile, at the time of this writing, longtime campground industry consultant Joe Moore, who previously managed The Vineyards Campground & Cabins in Grapevine, Texas, was preparing to depart for an orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico, where he planned to volunteer his carpentry skills along with other volunteers from Texas and across the country.

Compass Church’s annual “Men’s Mexico Construction Trip” includes Bible study as well as dinner with the children most nights. While the January 2022 trip involved the construction of a play structure, trips in recent years have involved everything from the construction of new dorms for the children to new classrooms for an onsite school that provides instruction for children’s home residents as well as children from nearby neighborhoods in Reynosa. The group has also built classrooms and made other improvements to another school a few miles away that serves the poor. The orphanage itself is run by Rio Bravo Ministries, an independent, nondenominational ministry based in Mission, Texas.

“I learned about this project through my church,” said Moore, a National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (National ARVC) board member who also supports food pantry collection efforts in Mineola, Texas.