Wonderland Camp to reopen May 23 following canceled 2020 season

Mitch Prentice
Lake Sun Leader
New Wonderland Camp Executive Director Jill Wilke stands with new camp Director Cameron Wright outside of the camp offices.

Wonderland Camp was among the many lake area services to cancel their programs in 2020. The camp serves a major function in the lake area, as the premier location for residents with disabilities to come together and enjoy the summer season. The camp’s cancellation last year was the first time it had to close its doors in 50 years. With all of that in the past, the camp has announced that it will reopen in 2021, with some new personnel leading the charge. 

Jill Wilke will take over as executive director of the camp this year after moving over from her role as Director of Home Health Hospice and Palliative care at Lake Regional. 

Wilke has a long history with the camp as her grandparents were the founders. She also served on the board for 14 years. She says that because this was such a pivotal year for Wonderland, the camp decided it was the right time to bring Wilke in and help keep things running sustainably.

“We were lucky because we have no debt and it allowed us to sustain a year like last year,” Wilke said. “But moving into the future, we have to keep coming up with new ideas and different ways to use our facility year-round to stay sustainable another 50 years.”

Wilke says they plan to open for the 2021 season on May 23. The camp falls into the essential grouping for vaccines and will be fully vaccinated before the season begins if the state’s timeline holds true. The camp will be implementing a number of safety features as well, including splitting up mealtimes, hand sanitizer stations, moving dances and talent shows outside for social distancing and more. The camp has nurses on staff 24/7.

The camp expects to have a large number of returning staff to help bolster operations. Wilke says that the staffers are just as excited to return as the campers. She says that they will try to introduce a number of new programs during the year, including a father-son weekend in the fall. 

“We’re getting calls daily from campers who can’t wait to get back to camp,” Wilke said.

Wilke says that it was heartbreaking last year to cancel the season, as Wonderland Camp serves as the sole vacation for many of the disabled residents who come for the program. The camp doesn’t have an age limit, meaning a wide variety of people come on a yearly basis. 

Not only did the cancellation have an impact on the campers, but it also took away a moment of respite for the families and caregivers of these campers. Wilke says that for these parents not to have that summer break for themselves can be exhausting. She says the camp is happy to be able to provide that moment of relief and to do it while providing a social environment for the campers themselves. 

And, of course, Wilke won’t be tackling the upcoming season alone. New camp Director Cameron Wright moved to the area from Kansas City to help with operations in 2021. He says he made a connection with Jill and hit it off, which led to his inquiry about a position at the camp. He says the position will be unique in his career, as well as challenging. However, he is excited about the enrichment that it will bring to his life and he is excited to get started. 

Wilke says she is excited to have fresh ideas coming to the camp between herself and Wright. She hopes that, between their new ideas and the perspectives of long-time camp leaders, they will be able to return to the high levels of service that the camp has provided in years past. 

“We hope we can bring the camp more exposure and shine a light on it because it is an amazing setting and there are amazing people that work here,” Wright said. 

Wonderland Camp is looking for help this summer season. To inquire about a possible camp position, check https://wonderlandcamp.org/