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Richard Berg took over managing a foundation that holds an annual summer camp in the pines for disadvantaged youth, expanding its offerings to include year-round youth programs in Phoenix.
Erik Larson works for Berg as the foundation’s intern, learning and applying fundraising and program evaluation skills that he said led him to choose program development as his career.
Berg has a master of social work degree from Arizona State University’s School of Social Work (SSW) and Larson will receive his MSW in May. Both have a connection to the Camp Colley Foundation that has enabled them to help young people learn, grow and appreciate the importance of environmental conservation.
And, each is a recipient of one of the school’s 2020 Social Work Month awards.
The awards are presented each March by the school to honor significant contributions to the social work profession. The school is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
Berg, who received his master of social work degree from Arizona State University in 2015, received the Early Career Achievement Award, recognizing a graduate from five years ago or fewer who has accomplished achievements in the social work profession to promote the general welfare of all people.
Larson, who will receive his master of social work degree in May, received the Outstanding Intern Award, which recognizes a student who has made outstanding contributions to an agency or organization while still in training.
First-ever director of foundation
Berg became the first-ever executive director of the Camp Colley Foundation (CCF) in 2019. For several years the foundation ran a successful series of three-day, two-night summer camps at Camp Colley in Arizona’s Mogollon Rim country, for disadvantaged Phoenix youth.
“Last summer I saw a camp with incredible potential and opportunity, a beautiful campus near Happy Jack, pristine, and with great facilities. It was screaming for expansion to take place,” Berg said.
Berg started talking to people, including Phoenix city officials, to explore ideas, beginning with one that had the foundation assuming operations for the camp, which was being run by a private vendor.
“What we’d come to realize was there could be another model. We could partner with the city on the property, which they own, and not only fund the camp as we had for 15 years, but we planted the seed that we could run the operations of Camp Colley as well,” he said.
Under the new model, CCF funds the camp as before, but also is responsible for camp programming.
“It allows us to create program expansion from a three-day, two-night model to a five-day, four-night model,” Berg said. “We can now serve 30 additional kids per session by expanding the number of sessions from five to six. Now we can serve up to 480 underserved Phoenix kids.”
Efforts are under way to align camp offerings to national accreditation standards for quality and safety, he said.
Expanding learning opportunities in Phoenix
But that was only the beginning. Berg saw the potential for taking environmental science lessons children were learning at Happy Jack and continuing them the rest of year back in Phoenix.
Like the foundation itself, Camp Colley was named for James A. Colley, who served for 22 years as the director of the Phoenix Parks, Recreation and Library Department. Berg said the foundation had always engaged in environmental science education as part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) emphasis with the youth it served. For example, the camp is run “off the grid,” as Berg put it, with all its electric power provided by a solar panel system and all its water drawn from its own well.
“It lends itself to teaching kids about sustainability and other enviro issues such as forest ecology and forest biology,” he said.
After getting the operations contract from the city in December, a full-time camp program director was hired in January. Berg said he received generous support from the community for the new model as an opportunity to continue to objectives of the summer camp by bringing that learning experience into where the youngsters live year ‘round.
“It’s where they can continue to learn and grow in their knowledge of nature and environment, and the impact their behaviors in Phoenix has on the environment,” Berg said. Lessons will be offered in areas such as waste reduction and composting.
“Right now, we’re looking at four different curricula and are going to develop some of our own,” Berg said.
Planning for campers to become leaders
Since it’s a three-hour drive to Camp Colley, Berg said that during fall, winter and spring the plan is to take young people to nearer areas, such as the Tonto National Forest or South Mountain Park, where they can apply what they’re learning. An additional benefit of localized field trips: the opportunity for the youths to engage their own families in what they are learning, something they can’t do at the summer camps, he said.
“One thing I’m excited to see is that if we get an 8-year-old who comes to the program in the summer, signs up and engages in the program all year, and she comes back to camp at age 9, camp won’t be just the one-and-done experience, but part of their educational landscape,” Berg said. “They can then transition into a sort of junior leadership role. I want to create a pipeline for community engagement.”
Berg said his time at ASU enabled him to be in the position he is to help transform the foundation’s programming.
“I am a diehard Sun Devil now. I was so impressed with my MSW program,” he said. “Even with the BSW under my belt, I had such great exposure in that second year (of the MSW program at ASU). If it were not for that educational experience, I would not be where I am in my career. I am in my 30s and find myself in an executive leadership role in an organization. I look back in the past 12 years of my career and see that my decision to go to ASU and get that master’s degree was the pivotal moment.”
Berg said he hopes to use his award to further position the foundation “to shout from the rooftops that this program is innovative and exciting, and it can build trust in our donors and community partners that Camp Colley is doing something unique that does not exist in our community or elsewhere.”
Learning the management, programming sides of social work
Working as the Camp Colley Foundation’s first-ever intern for its first-ever executive director provided real-world opportunities for Erik Larson to fashion his skills toward a career that will exactly fit his own master’s degree program in policy administration and community practice, he said.
Putting in over 480 internship hours over two semesters, Larson said he was able to accomplish goals not many people associate with social work.
“People think of social workers working directly with clients. The PAC program at ASU is involved with policy, administration and community practice, what is known as macro social work,” Larson said.
Larson said that early in his ASU career he followed a traditional path for social workers, working at a residential treatment center in Idaho and mentoring youths with academic problems associated with homelessness. He also worked at a juvenile court, with high-risk youth at a behavioral health center and with young adults with autism transitioning into the adult world.
His current ASU program – and his duties with the foundation – take him away from the better-known aspects of social work and enable him to explore what became his passion: program development, including fundraising and management.
“I know it will prepare me to be a leader in the non-profit world,” he said.
Larson joined Berg in a visit to Camp Colley last summer, even before the foundation officially took over operations. Larson assisted in looking over results of surveys and comparing campers’ experiences to prepare for summer 2020.
His work at CCF includes evaluating the selection of each year’s campers to ensure Camp Colley is drawing kids whose families are struggling and unable to afford to send them there. He also is involved in creating media campaigns, overall organizational management and governance.
“It’ll be sad to leave.” Larson said.
Berg nominated Larson, his intern, for the Outstanding Intern Award.
“Erik’s professional demeanor and business acumen allowed me, the sole full-time employee of the foundation, to quickly develop trust in his capacity to conduct meaningful work to excel our success with fundraising and our recent program acquisition,” Berg wrote. “Erik has been instrumental in projects such as launching our first annual fundraising event last fall, building a program manual aligning to standards to meet our three-year accreditation goal, and creating governance policies and procedures that have supported the efficient onboarding of two new members of our board of directors.”
Dale Larsen, past president of the foundation’s board as well as a professor of practice and community relations director at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, praised both Berg and Larson for their exemplary contributions at CCF.
“The Camp Colley Foundation, a nonprofit organization, dedicated to raising funds to send underserved and vulnerable Phoenix children to a fabulous summer outdoor wilderness camp in northern Arizona, has enormously benefitted ASU’s MSW program and internship opportunity,” wrote Larsen. “Not only is our executive director a master of social work, but because of his certification, is able to recruit and supervise outstanding MSW students. Erik Larson, ASU and Watts College MSW candidate, performed beyond expectations. CCF is fortunate and honored to have Richard Berg at the leadership helm and Erik Larson as his talented MSW student.”
This year’s award recipients
The theme of this year's awards is "Generations Strong" in recognition of social workers’ positive impact on society throughout their careers. Here is the list of all student, alumni and faculty recipients of the 2020 Social Work Month Awards:
Mark J. Scarp is media relations officer at ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.