True Friends Camp Courage facilities replacement needs your help

by John LeBlanc, President and CEO, True Friends   True Friends Camp Courage has been a Minnesota and regional asset for […]

Picture of the gym showing an old and worn floor.

by John LeBlanc, President and CEO, True Friends  

True Friends Camp Courage has been a Minnesota and regional asset for almost 70 years, providing experiences that have enriched and changed the lives of thousands of people with disabilities. The nonprofit agency provides life-changing experiences that enhance independence and self-esteem for children and adults with disabilities. 

True Friends programs include Camp, Respite, Retreats, Team Building, Therapy and Adaptive Riding, and Travel; serving over 25,000 individuals annually. With locations near Maple Lake, Annandale, Eden Prairie, and Bemidji, True Friends serves individuals from Minnesota and throughout the United States. 

Picture of the mechanical systems in the facilities worn down.

The 305-acre Maple Lake location was built with intention and great care all those years ago to ensure each individual felt welcomed and valued in a safe environment—and its buildings have served campers well. 

After more than 50 years of year-round use, one of Camp Courage’s most popular buildings is in need of a refresh. We at True Friends need help from our dedicated supporters, to build upon support we have received from the 2023 Minnesota Legislature and foundations. 

Our current pool and gym can no longer support the thousands of participants we serve every year. The volume of individuals served at Camp Courage has grown past the capacity the facilities can accommodate. The ventilation system and equipment that keeps the pool running was built in the 1970s and is not efficient. The gym is simply too small and does not allow enough space for large group activities. 

Picture of the gym showing an old and worn floor.

True Friends has taken steps to invest in a new Recreation Center to replace the existing pool and gym. The new building will provide enhanced accessible amenities including a temperature-controlled, state-of-the-art pool with zero entry, as well as a spacious gymnasium for sporting events and large group gatherings, as well as a stage to support performing arts opportunities.  

Our new Recreation Center will provide enhanced accessible amenities for individuals of all abilities to continually improve the experiences we provide. 

In May of 2023, True Friends was awarded $10 million from the Minnesota Legislature.

We launched a capital campaign to raise the remaining $6 million needed to fulfill project goals. We are seeking funding through grants, as well as donations.

In October 2023, True Friends was awarded $1.25 million in matching gifts from the Sundet family and the Otto Bremer Foundation. These two entities have agreed to match any gifts or pledges to the project dollar-for-dollar up to $1.25 million. These gifts, along with the matching dollars, will support the construction of a new Recreation Center at Camp Courage in Maple Lake. 

The $1.25 million given by the Sundet family and the Otto Bremer Foundation and the matches will go toward the total base cost of the $16 million project. 

Pending fulfilled financial goals, construction will begin in Fall 2025. But we face challenges. We just learned that construction cost estimates have risen another 8-10 percent. 

Our current and former campers tell our story:  

Camp Courage was built on the pretense of being a place that was made for us, and this place is still made for us,” said Billie, a long time Camp Courage camper. “I used to tell my friends at school about it and I would say ‘It felt like a piece of heaven to me,’ a heaven in the sense that everyone is welcome, everyone is accepted, that is another thing that True Friends means to me, that’s the biggest thing that True Friends means to me, is overall you are accepted. Disability and all.”  

“This is a great place,” Kari, a Camp Courage camper, said describing her True Friends experience. “I became a quad amputee and this place made me feel normal again. I was able to do every activity here. Never felt out of place.” 

Visit Camp Courage Recreation Center for future project updates. To learn more about True Friends, visit www.truefriends.org, call 952-852-0101, or email [email protected]

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