WonderCamper at Hilltop Gardens in 2021. Photo by Andrea Golden.

The George E. Archer Foundation and WonderLab share a vision for the future. A future where children play outside with the freedom to explore natural environments. 

“Outdoor play and exploration through WonderCamp encourages children to learn about nature and how to support the environment. It also helps them learn about climate, food sources and choices, as well as native plants.” said Karen Jepson-Innes, Executive Director at WonderLab.

In 2021, when WonderLab shifted its focus to more nature-related outdoor camps, the Archer Foundation stepped up to help. Archer funds support outdoor camp activities, scholarship fees, and bus transportation to out-of-county camp locations.

WonderCampers at Hilltop Gardens in 2021. Photo by Andrea Golden.

“Children need to engage with nature and be outdoors,” said Beth Hollingsworth, Co-President of the Archer Foundation. Given the amount of time children have spent indoors participating in e-learning due to the pandemic, she believes that it is important for them to socialize with their peers in person. 

Though WonderCamp lasts only eight weeks, the Archer Foundation hopes that their contributions will be felt by children well beyond summer. Campers will learn about sustainability and how it affects their health – lessons that are applicable year round. Jepson-Innes expressed gratitude for the Archer Foundation’s support and their significant impact on WonderLab’s community.

“The Archer Foundation has been visionary in how they facilitated the big changes at WonderCamp as well as encouraging kids to be outdoors more often so that they can reconnect with the land they live on.” said Jepson-Innes.

Ten Years of Partnership

The Archer Foundation’s partnership with WonderLab started in 2012 when the Foundation sponsored WonderLab’s First Fridays Science of Art: Nature’s Palette. This program featured outdoor hands-on activities such as gardening, planting vegetables, and the creation of art patterns with paint, using cross sections of vegetables. 

WonderCampers at Kent Farm – Banding Station in 2021. Photo by WonderCamp staff.

Since then, the Archer Foundation has supported WonderLab in other ways. The Al Ruesink College Internship Program was established in 2014 by the Archer Foundation to honor the late Indiana University biology professor Albert W. Ruesink. Ruseink was a long-time WonderLab supporter and a board member of the George E. Archer Foundation. 

According to Jepson-Innes, the internship program is transformative. It provided the first steady source of annual income to support Indiana University students who help run WonderCamp. These student interns support camp administrators and teachers, and help and supervise campers. 

Since its inception, both Jepson-Innes and Hollingsworth agreed that the program has grown substantially to include more interns and additional sources of funding, while ensuring that campers are well supervised throughout the camp sessions. 

“This internship experience was my first time working with children in a professional capacity. I learned so much from the campers and truly enjoyed getting to know so many of them.” said Rose Melton, a recipient of the Al Ruesink Scholarship and 2021 WonderCamp Safety and Recreation Coordinator Intern. “The campers encouraged me to be brave. I tried celery for the first time since childhood, and discovered I liked it. I picked up cicadas and let them crawl on my clothes.”

Looking Ahead

WonderCampers at Goat Conspiracy Farm in 2021. Photo by Andrea Golden.

WonderCamp 2022 is shaping up to be a great season. Thanks to support from Archer, WonderLab has expanded the number of camp sessions at outdoor venues such as the Goat Conspiracy Farm, Kent Farm-Banding Station, T.C Steele State Historic Site, Field Lab at Griffy Woods, and Hilltop Gardens at Indiana University. 

Topics for the 2022 summer sessions include learning how cheese and soap are made, the secret lives of local wildlife, the power of plants, climate change and conservation, upcycling, flying machines, and how to solve real world problems in hands-on ways.

Archer also funds scholarships. In 2022 WonderLab was able to double the number of scholarships awarded to campers thanks to Archer’s support. Said Hollingsworth, “Increasing the number of scholarships provides an opportunity to give more children the chance to be outside this summer…”

The experience that children gain from WonderLab’s outdoor camps counters the isolation of pandemic times, and  Hollingsworth is enthusiastic about the continued partnership.

According to Hollingsworth, she doesn’t see an end to the Archer Foundation’s involvement with WonderCamp because the Board of Directors is passionate about the initiative of reducing children’s screen time by exposing them to outdoor environments where they can learn and explore. 

WonderCampers at T.C. Steele State Historic Site in 2021. Photo by Andrea Golden.

To emphasize this point, Hollingsworth said that the Archer Foundation believes that kids who regularly connect with nature are more likely to respect it. “We all want a more sustainable future,” said Hollingsworth, “…not just for ourselves but for future generations as well.”

Questions about this article? Contact Aleisha Kropf, WonderLab Marketing Director at marketing@wonderlab.org