Camp Tawonga sign
Camp Tawonga (File photo)

In $17M campaign homestretch, Tawonga seeks final $1.5M

Camp Tawonga, a mainstay of the Northern California Jewish camp scene for nearly a century, is launching a new fundraising campaign to help complete an ambitious, yearslong plan to transform the campus. 

The camp, sitting on 160 acres adjacent to Yosemite National Park, aims to bring the pivotal camp experience to more people and to become a year-round facility. 

The new initiative aims to raise around $1.5 million from the community, which would cap off a $17 million fundraising campaign that began in 2016. The camp has already brought in around $15.5 million, mostly from large gifts. Now Tawonga is turning to the broader community to make up the difference.

The money that’s raised, camp officials said, will go to improvements such as better-insulated cabins that can be used year-round, new weekend programs for women and Jewish families of color, solar panels, a new health center, a bigger dining hall, new accessible and gender-neutral restrooms, and a garden kitchen.

News clipping
In 1999, a wildfire damaged several structures at Camp Tawonga, including the teen village. (Jewish Bulletin / J. Digital Archives)

Also planned is a remodel of Tawonga Village, a teen camp that was destroyed by fire in 1999. The new “village” will be able to take in 200 or more campers in the summer.

Tawonga already has made progress on other significant improvements, according to the website, including installing graywater capture systems, undergrounding electrical wires, and adding cooling and air filtration systems to address climate change and smoke.

In 2020, Tawonga took a $4 million hit when it had to close for the whole summer due to the pandemic. The community stepped up by donating fees that would have paid for their kids to go to camp. That and private donations — including from Mark and Debra Leslie of Portola Valley, along with their adult children — allowed the camp to make up for the summer’s financial losses.

Tawonga also received funds last year when Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan gave a total of $1.3 million to Jewish organizations, mostly in the Bay Area. 

News clipping from 1925
News clipping announcing Tawonga’s opening in 1925. (The Emanu-El / J. Digital Archives)

In 2019, Tawonga received funding from the Foundation for Jewish Camp to put toward the new health center, one that will include wheelchair-accessible ramps and bathrooms, plus rooms for campers with extreme sensitivity to sensory stimulation who need a quiet space.

This most recent phase of the fundraising campaign was kicked off by the $5 million gift from the Leslie family, which was announced in October 2021 but had been pledged privately in 2016, Tawonga said.