Eighty-eight years ago, the crown jewel of downtown Austin, Zilker Park, opened to the public. That same year, Austin Sunshine Camps was founded, and the two have been inextricably linked ever since. Serving our community’s youth through after school programs and summer camps, Austin Sunshine Camps is one of the oldest continuously-operating non-profits in Austin.
Here’s how it happened. In 1928, Young Men’s Business League of Austin recognized that youth tuberculosis was a serious threat to the community. The organization’s members formed Summer Sunshine Camps in Zilker Park because many people (at the time) thought exposure to sunlight could help cure the disease. Since then, Austin Sunshine Camps has since morphed into empowering “low income, high potential” kids realize their full potential.
By all accounts, they’ve been wildly successful. One hundred percent of kids enrolled in the Austin Sunshine Camps after-school programs have gone on to graduate, compared to 87 percent of those in a similar demographic who did not enroll.
The best part of all this? All programs are FREE. Through the impressive fundraising efforts of Young Men’s Business League and generous donations from Austinites, Austin Sunshine Camps has always been free of charge.
Working Together to Impact Lives
The symbiotic relationship among Austin Sunshine Camps, Zilker Park and the City of Austin has been beneficial for everyone. “I’ve always found it kind of sad when kids come up to me and tell me they have never been to Zilker before,” Executive Director Jenny Stucky shared with me. “We hope to see these kids return to the park and share it with their families after they experience it with us.”
Despite operating within one of the most environmentally-protected areas of Austin, Austin Sunshine Camps has been able to work with Austin Parks and Recreation Department to build an entirely new facility at the same location of the now-demolished 1950s-era building. This new headquarters features much-needed upgrades, as well as up to 50 percent capacity increase for campers.
Austin Sunshine Camps’ standing in the community has allowed it to form strong partnerships that last decades. “Zilker Park Boat Rentals has worked with us since the ’60s to provide free canoeing lessons to all our campers. It is such a classic outdoor activity that many of our kids would never be able to experience otherwise,” Stucky shared. The kids are even offered a free canoe ride if they come back with their families.
How Can You Help?
Young Men’s Business League of Austin holds two major fundraising events for Austin Sunshine Camps every year: Austin Under 40 Awards and Silicon Labs Sunshine Run. You can also donate at any time through the Austin Sunshine Camps website. In addition to fundraising efforts, the league provides countless hours of year-round mentoring and leadership activities with the kids.
Volunteers are always needed during the eight weeks of summer camp, as well as at after school programs throughout the school year. Your application process starts on the organization’s website.
This introductory video does a great job of outlining the programs and types of kids who are helped:
“I never have fun in the summer, but now I do. Here it makes me much more happier than at home,” a young girl comments on the video. That’s Austin Sunshine Camps’ mission statement in a nutshell: providing underprivileged children opportunities they may never have otherwise. By participating and being mentored by Austin’s local leaders, they get a glimpse of a brighter future.
It’s a noble cause that has been executed with consistent dedication for almost nine decades. It’s one that deserves more attention and recognition. Said Stucky, “We don’t want to be Austin’s best kept secret anymore. It’s time the word got out.”
@Crafty_Ed wants to know:
Have you worked with Austin Sunshine Camps in the past?