Shira Berkowitz launched Camp Indigo Point because they wanted to build a safe space for LGBTQ+ kids and counselors.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 20, 2022. It has since been updated.
In 2007, Shira Berkowitz was hired as a counselor at an overnight summer camp in Minnesota. However, the queer program director, then aged 22, shortly received a message. It read, "Please do not come back to camp." Allegedly, parents "voiced concerns" about their gender and sexuality. Additionally, Berkowitz would face inappropriate comments from their fellow staff members. Rather than just quitting, the determined camp counselor decided to open their own nondenominational camp that caters specifically to the LGBTQ+ community. Camp Indigo Point, a one-week program for LGBTQ+ kids and counselors, is scheduled to begin its inaugural session on June 12, The Washington Post reports.
“Camp Indigo Point is a place where kids can just be their authentic selves. They are there to flourish.” https://t.co/tbS5txJT7W— Shira Berkowitz (@shiraberk) May 18, 2022
"[Camp staff members] would say inappropriate things about my sexuality," Berkowitz shared in an interview with the news outlet. "And question whether it was right that I would be in the same cabin of same-sex kids." The incident was profoundly upsetting for them. However, they eventually gave camp another go as they had grown up attending and appreciating Jewish summer camps. They went on to work at another Jewish overnight program in Rocky Mount, Minnesota. They described the camp as "a very accepting place to be, but it was also very isolating to be one of the only queer people at camp."
Today on the show we're talking with @shiraberk and Dan Grabel, two of the people behind Camp Indigo Point, a new summer camp for LGBTQ+ kids. They have 90 kids coming from all over the country -- and a waiting list. Tune in today to find out more: https://t.co/aq0a048n9x— St. Louis on the Air (@STLonAir) March 23, 2022
This inspired Berkowitz to launch their own camp, now known as Camp Indigo Point. As there are other camps specifically for queer children, they were not sure about how many sign-ups they would receive. They would have been pleased with just a handful. Nonetheless, in just a few weeks, 95 spots filled up with campers ranging from the second grade to the eleventh, hailing from more than 25 states—including Alaska. Furthermore, the 29 camp staff roles have been filled, and there are approximately 55 prospective campers currently on a waiting list.
Berkowitz explained, "We had no idea the real need that was out there for this camp." They are organizing the camp in partnership with Dan Grabel, the director and owner of Camp Manitowa in Benton, Illinois. He had the idea to host a program for LGBTQ+ kids on his property after he saw a need for the program. Daniel Bogard, a St. Louis rabbi and advocate, is also involved in the project. "We were hopeful that we were going to get 20 kids," Bogard stated. "[But as registrations poured in, I quickly recognized] there is such a demand." Grabel added, "How much this has really taken off put into sharp focus the need for this type of program. We are counting down the days."
The activities will remain similar to those at other traditional overnight camps and include swimming, kayaking, tree climbing, ziplining, horseback riding, archery, land sports, and arts and crafts. The week-long session is priced at $575 and full scholarships are available. Scholarships were made possible by almost $12,000 in donations from community leaders, rabbis and local families. Roy Mills, one of the first parents to sign his child up for Camp Indigo Point, said, "I thought it was pretty amazing that they saw the need, and they went for it. I think they are doing a major service for kids that are unable to really find a community."