Deaf camp

Participants in the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are pictured in this photo taken from the nonprofit’s website. New plans for the organization were announced Sunday during an event held at Harvey Preston Gallery.

After a year hiatus, the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is relaunching with a new vision that includes the potential for a year-round experiential school, board members told a private group at the Harvey Preston Gallery on Sunday afternoon. 

The camp temporarily closed its doors in November 2018 following several incidents that made it hard to remain open. In August 2018, a federal tax lien for $145,000 in payroll taxes, from 2014 to 2016, was filed against the nonprofit. Officials received word from the Internal Revenue Service on Saturday — just in time for Sunday’s gathering — that they would owe significantly less. 

“Things are good for us, it won’t be an issue,” said Karen Immerso, vice president of the board. “They’ve accepted the offer; it’s a small amount of money. The three of us left on the board were left with the situation of running a nonprofit ... the people who are gone are gone, and the mistakes that were made are not our responsibilities.” 

Immerso, a Gunnison resident, is one of three existing board members. The other two are Eric Kaika, who lives in Maryland, and Ryan Commerson, who lives in Colorado Springs. The trio worked with a lawyer to reach a deal with the IRS, but the board would not disclose the new payment amount.

The organization’s 17.5-acre campus is located in Old Snowmass, and it has nine buildings that can accommodate up to 100 people. The 52-year-old Aspen Camp was known for its summer programming, bringing deaf campers from around the country to “build self-esteem through deafhood,” according to its website.

The tax lien came after an incident with Airbnb renters who vandalized the camp’s cabins, which were rented out during the 2018 X Games for extra income. More than $4,000 in damages reportedly were incurred.

“The camp is a new entity,” Immerso said. “With some baggage we want to leave behind.” 

Sunday’s event was held to announce a new start for the deaf camp. All three board members emphasized that the relaunch includes rebuilding relationships and solidifying a new donor and volunteer base. Plans for the year-round school are three to five years out, and no official fundraising goal was announced. 

The nonprofit will run its summer camp in 2020 with one-week sessions that focus on activity-based learning such as mountain biking, whitewater rafting, filmmaking and STEM classes. Registration will open in January, according to Kaika.  

The board also is considering hosting one of the camp’s largest fundraisers, a summer concert in Snowmass, again in 2020. 

The camp was started by Carbondale resident Harris Reed in 1967. He had a deaf son and wanted a place for him to learn and play with other deaf and hard of hearing children. 

“We’re basically growing from the ground up again and we’re looking for support,” Immerso said. She said the property was specifically gifted by Reed for the deaf community, and its mission is to continue ensuring that’s done. 

“There are a lot of deaf schools out there. They might be closing for reasons with the government, or they are managed by hearing people,” Kaika said. “If we continue we’ll be the only, and first, deaf school managed by the deaf community. The environment is really special and offers something different for the deaf community.”

Immerso echoed Kaika’s belief that the Old Snowmass location is what sets the camp apart from other programs in the country. Many deaf schools are based in cities, but the local organization gives students the chance to learn in nature. 

The camp has welcomed more than 21,000 deaf people from 47 states and 12 countries, camp director Lesa Thomas told the Snowmass Sun in a 2017 interview. Thomas left the organization in 2018 and there is currently no executive director nor staff.