Our History

The Camp HOPE America journey started in 2003. Casey Gwinn, President of Alliance for HOPE International (and then—San Diego City Attorney) had a dream to give children and teens coming to the San Diego Family Justice Center something to look forward to. He didn’t want their positive journey toward safety and healing to end when they left the Family Justice Center. Casey and his wife, Beth, both raised in the camping world, went on long motorcycle trips for months looking at camps all over Southern California to see if one of them might fit the bill. After searching high and low, they found an undeveloped piece of land at Lake Sutherland in San Diego County.

Lake Sutherland, a reservoir owned by the City of San Diego, was completely protected from development. It seemed nearly impossible to have any type of camp on a property where no building was permitted. But impossibilities had never stopped Casey in the past and they wouldn’t stop him now. Camp HOPE America (formerly Camp HOPE San Diego) and the team at the San Diego Family Justice Center partnered with San Diego County to put on 10 weeks of wilderness camping at Lake Sutherland in the summer of 2003. At a reservoir that had a “no water body contact” rule, the State of California let Casey and his team use the water for waterskiing, tubing, canoeing, and fishing. Volunteers from the Family Justice Center and local churches came out to build platforms for teepees, bathroom trailers were rented from a local company, and the “Snack Shack” at the lake served as an outdoor dining area and camping kitchen. Camp HOPE America became a reality and life-changing experiences for children and teens began happening at Lake Sutherland.

Camp HOPE America, like the children and teens that have attended over the years, has survived challenges and heartbreak. In 2007, the property developed at Lake Sutherland burned to the ground in one of the largest forest fires in San Diego’s history. The dream of running a camp at Lake Sutherland ended. Several years went by without any camping opportunities for children impacted by domestic violence in San Diego County. However, in the winter of 2011, Karianne Johansen (the former Children’s Program Coordinator at the San Diego Family Justice Center) re-started Camp HOPE America from scratch. In February of 2012, Alliance for HOPE International, under Karianne’s leadership, hosted 30 San Diego Family Justice Center kids at a YMCA camp in Julian, CA. The revival of the Camp HOPE America dream was underway!

In June 2012, the Shasta Family Justice Center (Redding, CA) hosted a camp week under the leadership of then-Director Michael Burke. The passion of Michael Burke and his team combined with the determination of Karianne Johansen and the Alliance for HOPE International team began the vision for a statewide camping program in California. In 2013, Camp HOPE America began to partner with several camps all the way up the coast to northern California. Children and teens came from Family Justice Centers from California, Idaho, and even Oregon. Research outcomes from the 2013 program were documented for the first time by the University of Oklahoma’s Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations (now known as the Hope Research Center) and clearly demonstrated the power of Camp HOPE America to change the way youth exposed to trauma view themselves and their futures.

Now Camp HOPE America has spread across the United States as Family Justice Centers work in partnership with Alliance for HOPE International and join the Camp HOPE America vision. Our Affiliates across the country are partnering with local camps to put on weeks of Camp HOPE America in their communities that are sure to have a ripple effect far into the future.

From its humble beginnings in San Diego, through challenges and adversity to a statewide program and a national vision, the fascinating Camp HOPE America journey is gaining supporters, participants, donors, and volunteers across the country. To be part of making history and changing the lives of children and teens exposed to trauma, you can donate or get involved personally by contacting camphope@allianceforhope.com.