AUSTIN (KXAN) — Since 2006, Austin children have transported into the world of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” series at Camp Half-Blood Austin. Now, camp officials are working to continue bringing the books’ fantasy adventures to life, fundraising to keep the summer camp operating.
CHBA aims to bring to life the “Percy Jackson” books to help instill a love for reading, as well as create an outlet for kids to act out adventures from the series. Overseeing the summer camp is Between the Pages, a nonprofit founded by Topher Bradfield.
In addition to hosting CHBA, Between the Pages also works to bring representational books into classrooms where students read about characters that reflect their own identities or lived experiences, Bradfield said.
Since COVID, though, Bradfield said CHBA is still struggling after those initial camp disruptions. Now, the camp is in the midst of a fundraising haul to raise $150,000 to keep things afloat with its school and summer camp programming.
“There was COVID, and so, what we were looking at was a 20% to 25% decrease in re-enrollment,” he said, adding: “We’re still reeling from COVID, we’re still reeling from those losses — the loans that had to be taken out in order to survive. And so right now, we find ourselves in the very precarious situation of wondering if we can continue forward.”
With its fundraising push comes a camper call-out, with CHBA leaders calling 3,000 current camp families to check on their registration status to try and attract former campers. CHBA is also collaborating with several local and queer-owned businesses in auctioning off items to bid on to financially support the organization.
Kaye McKinnerney’s daughter attended CHBA for three years. She said her daughter, an avid reader, was thrilled by the opportunity to attend a camp that mimicked a book series she adored.
“To have a place where she could go and reading was not — she wasn’t considered nerdy or geeky or anything, but were celebrated,” she said. “Everybody was there because they had a love of those books was really, really great.”
Through running the camp, Bradfield said he’s learned the “Percy Jackson” series has become somewhat of a safe space for queer and neurodivergent kids, or those with brain differences like ADHD, autism and dyslexia. He added he wants to continually instill a place for community and acceptance for these kids as they play and develop their confidence.
Almost all of CHBA’s staff are former campers, including the nonprofit’s board chair. Many campers have stayed in touch with Bradfield and the organization and have gone onto successful careers in science, math, engineering and creative fields.
His hope is that by giving children an imaginative outlet via reading, and a physical space to find themselves and their community, CHBA can continue to instill confidence in new generations of dreamers.
“We’re not done. We have a lot more story to tell, a lot more story to share,” he said. “And we want to be out there for our community.”
To donate to CHBA, click here or send Venmo donations to @SaveCampHalfBloodATX.