House in the Wood: 100 Years of Retreat

For a few weeks each summer, disadvantaged youth from Chicago escape the violence and poverty of their inner-city neighborhoods at the House in the Wood camp on the shores of Lake Delavan, Wis.

In this nurturing place, they make new friends, enjoy the outdoors, and learn life skills.

A program of the Northwestern University Settlement Association, the camp recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

“We show the children what else is out there for them,” says Val Wright, the camp’s director of 26 years. “All they know is what’s in their neighborhoods, which isn’t very good. Here they meet a lot of different people—some from other countries, some who went to college, and they learn to do things they haven’t tried before.”

When campers return year after year, as many do, they grow in in confidence, leadership, acceptance and adaptability, she says.

One former camper is Naketa Jones, who heads the year-round leadership training program for older teens. She attended the camp every summer until she turned 16. That’s when she got her first job, at an ice cream store. She attributes that accomplishment to the resume and interviewing skills she learned at House in the Wood. Now her children are campers, too.

“Camp was my home away from home,” says Jones, who grew up in a single-parent household in West Town. “I got to reconnect with friends I didn’t see during the school year, and I could just play outside and be safe and free.”

The 23-acre campground is surrounded by forest, open space and marshland, and is rich in flora and wildlife. Each season about 350 children, ages 7 through 17, spend a couple of weeks or more there. Families pay sliding fees based on income and expenses. Day-camp and family camp programs also are offered. Though the official 100th anniversary was this summer, a Centennial Reunion Picnic for alumni, family and friends is planned for spring 2011.

Since the mid-1930s, the camp’s primary financial sponsor has been the North Shore Board of the Northwestern University Settlement Association. The all-volunteer group is made up of about 70 women from the north suburbs and Chicago. Their major fundraiser is the annual Glitter Ball, to be held this year on Saturday, November 6, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. To buy tickets and learn more, click here.

“The North Shore Board is the foundation of the House in the Wood camp,” says Settlement President Ron Manderschied. “They have been extraordinarily generous with their support and they are deeply committed to the camp program. We are blessed to have them.”

To learn more about House in the Wood or sponsor a camper, visit the Northwestern University Settlement House’s page at nush.org.