In Operation for over 10 years, we pride ourselves on quality camp programming. Please enjoy learning about the full history of Tsuga, below:
2006: Ethan “Tsuga” Erickson completed his staff time as a Stream Biology Field Instructor with Multnomah County’s Outdoor School program and joined the Board of Friends of Outdoor School. He was hired by Oregon State University’s Extension Service to pilot Operation Purple Camp (a program of the National Military Family Association) in Salem, Oregon. With a dozen camp Counselors from Oregon’s 4-H program and a dozen more of his Outdoor School volunteer instructors, Erickson began building Oregon’s first and only statewide community for military-connected youth. Erickson’s first week as a Camp Director, with such a young and newly assembled staf was a significant challenge. It was also however a welcomed and familiar role to that of his service ending that year as a Lieutenant in the Oregon Army National Guard.
2007: Operation Purple Camp became a two-week program serving Teens one week and Youth the second week. This allowed staff to apply a more refined and age-appropriate set of activities. There was a heavy focus during the first few years on identifying the unique needs of Oregon’s military-connected youth, and understanding how the roles and perspectives of youth and teens change at home and school when one or more parents are deployed overseas. Kids Serve Too was the mantra as Tsuga Staff began to study how Toxic Stress on developing youth could also result in greater resiliency when under stress as young adults. Erickson began studying Community Planning and Nonprofit Management at the University of Oregon.
2008: Tsuga Staff began to realize that they could take their talents on the road and create the conditions for people to feel a sense of belonging to each other in a variety of unconventional camp venues. Over the course of four consecutive weeks, the Tsuga Staff conducted Operation Purple camp in 1) Red Cross field tents and cots in Oregon’s High Desert; 2) an open airplane hanger bay in Redmond, Oregon and 3) their “home court” camp facility, the Oregon 4-H Center in west Salem, Oregon. We realized we could bring our product and services to where the need existed instead of asking program participants and families to come to us. This was a summer with many stories we still love to tell, “Hurricane OPC” being one that only a few of the original staff have the privilege of passing on.
2009: Ethan Erickson completed his studies at the University of Oregon with a Masters Degree in Community Planning and a graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management. He decided to incorporate as a Sole Proprietor with the State of Oregon as a for-profit entity operating to the industry standard of a nonprofit organization. Oregon State University faculty transferred grant funding and overall program coordination for Operation Purple to the newly formed Tsuga Camp Staff Coalition. Erickson began a new tradition of touring Oregon each September, meeting and forming relationships with camp management staff all over the state. Operation Purple took place at Canyonview Camp in Silverton, Oregon and again at the 4-H Center in Salem for the next couple years. Selecting camp venues that were regionally appropriate to serve the needs of families deployed that summer, as well as the educational and recreational needs of each age group became an important component of successful program delivery.
2010: Operation Purple as a national program began to focus more on the reintegration of families following the dynamics navigated during the heavier deployment cycle years. Every local version of Operation Purplewas a little different and born out of the characteristics of each camp community. Operation Purple for most was a one-week attachment to a camp’s inherit religious or recreational focused activities. Tsuga however was different, we didn’t have an existing focus and made our business model to build custom camp programming for each client, based on anecdotal or formal information gathered through a community needs assessment. The songs sang together, the activities throughout the day and the focus of each staff member was ab intentional program curriculum based on the needs and desired outcomes of each community we worked with. Because of this focused attention on serving military families specifically (not just maintaining camp as a summer past-time), many of our local best practices were recognized and integrated into the revised national curriculum.
2011: A Board of Directors known as the Tsuga Community Commission (TCC) and the High Counsel of organizational voting members (serving to elect the Commission at an annual meeting) operated for a full first year as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Camp programming took place at Suttle Lake Camp near Sisters, Oregon and again at the the 4-H Center. While camps in the past had involved bus field trips to high-ropes courses, hiking Central Oregon’s lava tubes, swimming in mountain lakes or climbing Smith Rocks, 2011 was all about white water rafting. It was a first this year and an activity enjoyed by both the staff and program participants. Tsuga Staff volunteered with the University of Oregon’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) program, canvasing the City of Adair Village door to door, gathering community identity and social capital data. Tsuga Founder and Executive Director, Ethan Erickson, completed TCC’s first consulting contract with the City of Adair Village, analyzing the survey data and providing a recommendations report to the City Council.
2012: After seven years of Operation Purple Camp in Oregon, four of the original high school students who piloted the program in 2006 hadn’t missed a summer on staff and were now owning roles on Senior Staff. It was time to enhance our staff training programming by spending a full week together with over a dozen teen camp Participants at Grove Christian Camp near Cottage Grove, OR. Technically, this became the 6th site we ran military family support programming at. This week-long training weekend was a blast, including a trip into town to get Waffle cones and watch a regional fire works display on the 4th of July. After a most intimate week together, we continued to build our base. What became our largest staff ever served one of our smallest number of program Participants the following week at the 4-H Center. Instead of spreading ourselves thin, we built a new foundation, a 2.0 version of the community that would sustain Tsuga programming many years to come.
There was a lot of rebuilding in 2012. Tsuga’s Founding Director Ethan Erickson wasn’t alone as the only full-time volunteer (.25 FTE paid). Other seasonal staff were becoming more integral including Katie “Solstice” Wich as the Administrative Manager, Akari “Emu” Anderson as the Programs Manager and Terence “Chippewa” Brasch as the Site Manager. Other key staff involved for a number of years on Senior Staff included Abigail “Shell” Jones and Natalie “Cadence” Locke. Funding for Operation Purple camp was declining rapidly by this point, motivating Erickson and a very young Commission to conduct a first annual spring fundraising event themed A New Season to supplement waning funding from the National Military Family Association.
2013: Of the 37 states that once hosted an Operation Purple Camp, Tsuga was one of roughly 10 organizations left still working with supplemental funding from the National Military Family Association for an Operation Purple contract. Funding in 2013 was a mere 20% of what was contracted to support Oregon’s military families in 2009. With renegotiated partnerships, staff stipend cuts all around, and with serving less than 100 campers for the first time, “Last Camp Standing” became the motto that summer. We used our venue modification and curriculum adaptation skills to build and occupy Hemlock Village located in the back section of Camp Silver Creek at Silver Falls State Park near Silverton, Oregon. From building the resiliency skills of military-connected youth, and developing the family reintegration skills of teens, 2013 became an effort to guide and mentor these program participants that had been with us (a few for all eight years) into their young adult years living in a deployment affected household. With funding and the number of participants at an all-time low, we talked as a staff and a Commission about how to reaffirm our community development goals for Oregon’s military families. The Commission conducted a first annual strategic planning retreat, and Erickson began a more formal partnership with the Oregon National Guard State Family Assistance Program.
The other major success was the genesis, funding and piloting of Neighborhood PLACE: Parks Learning and Community Enhancementat the Linnton Community Center in NW Portland. Metro (Portland area regional government) and Tsuga donors were the primary funding sources. Natalie “Cadence” Locke initiated the idea of PLACE originally named Vacant Lot Day-Camp. Akari “Emu” Anderson did most of the work on curriculum / activity development while Ethan “Tsuga” Erickson coordinated grant fulfillment and partnership development.
2014: An important year of growth and progress… The economy finally turned around after many years in recession and the Commission (Board of Directors) stayed on for a second consecutive year (Auggie Ford, Mark Ronning, Erin McPherson and Brian Stitt). The economy, increased outreach and a dedicated Commission allowed the Founding Director (Erickson) to earn for the first time, the full compensation outlined in his part-time volunteer / part-time paid employee (.5 FTE) seasonal employment contract. A third upgrade of www.Tsuga.org was unveiled with more multi-media and video features. Operation Purple took place at an eighth new site in Oregon, Camp White Branch along the old McKenzie River Highway in the high Cascade Range.
A 3rd annual spring fundraising event (Star Spangled Summer) was successful in sustaining both the teen week and youth week of residential camp programming for Oregon’s military-connected youth community. Oregon Summer Star was piloted as a complimentary and collaborative supplemental funding brand to Operation Purple Camp. Local fundraising was boosted by a few key business sponsors including Anderson Brothers, Bella Furnishings, Creekside Mortgage and Northwestern Mutual. Creekside Mortgage President, Kerry Greenwald’s “Purple Mohawk” fundraising campaign (featured on KGW 8 and KPTV 12) was the the most successful fundraising campaign of the year.
Neighborhood PLACE: Parks Learning & Community Enhancement made strides in its second year with continued leadership by Programs Manager Akari “Emu” Anderson. PLACE was funding through grants from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and again Metro for a week of day-camp programming at Salish Ponds City Park in Fairview, OR and at Cathedral Park in St. Johns, Portland, OR.
2015: After 10 magical years of Operation Purple Camp in Oregon, this summer sure lived up to its year in excellent celebration. There were campers with us who were not born yet when this unique community began in 2006. There were Counselors who stepped up front to teach the songs they learned as early program Participants. There were Participants who became staff and had graduated to become proud enlisted members of our Oregon Army National Guard. Without even going any further with this ministry, it was a year to “cheers” each other and take note of how much work had been done. However, looking ahead did bring some doubt as it had been well over a decade since the attacks on 9/11. The national call to fund military family support programming was a slower and much quieter beating drum.
Neighborhood PLACE was moved from the Portland’s east side Metro area to partner more specifically with Jackson Middle School’s SUN Community School in SW Portland. Youth from several SW neighborhoods gathered at Jackson Middle School over a four-week period to expand on the original curriculum activities. Walking field trips through local neighborhoods, visiting an Elementary school SUN program as neighborhood mentors, and taking bus field trips to parks outside the immediate neighborhood allowed students to engage in their greater area. It wasn’t just a day-camp where students interact with each other on site anymore, it became a program that also trained students to co-exist in society in responsible ways.
2016: The Tsuga name had landed at a 13th location where programming took place. Camp Cascade was the newest camp host to Operation Purple Camp and Oregon Summer Star while Jackson’s SUN School again hosted PLACE curriculum activities. One of the key landmarks reached in 2016 was that the first 50 Camp Staff Coalition numbers had finally been assigned. In 2010 when staff were first issued numbers, the idea wasn’t embraced with full confidence. However, as originally imagined, by 2016 it had become established as something new staff were excited to work hard for, and return to receive in their second summer with Tsuga. Over the years, Camp Staff Coalition numbers have been a key feature of our kickball jerseys as well as a pile of different staff uniforms.
2017: Unfortunately, our relationship with Operation Purple, a program of the National Military Family Association ended due to a lack of funds available for camps in Oregon. However, we still served 100 campers age 7 to 17. Youth of military families, grandchildren of military families and friends of military-connected youth were welcomed to attend, for only a $150 registration fee. Without a national funding partner and with the continued waning of donor support for military families, it was necessary in 2017 to pass on 25% of the costs participating families.
The High Counsel and Community Commission retreated to evaluate the sustainability of our programming and the organization. As a whole organization, we worked with materials provided by the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, Kylie Hutchinson’s Survive and Thrive manual and started including current trauma-informed programming research in our work. We decided that from this point forward, our brand identity would be known for more than comprehensive mentoring and creative field education curriculum. We were now officially a Professional Learning Community.