Open hearts greet new Camp Taylor facility at old Honor Farm near Grayson

Monday, September 24, 2018

Open hearts greet new Camp Taylor facility at old Honor Farm near Grayson

BY MARIJKE ROWLAND

mrowland@modbee.com

September 23, 2018 12:17 PM

A place that once locked up law breakers will now give children with heart disease the freedom to be themselves in Stanislaus County.

On Saturday, ground was broken on the new, permanent home for Camp Taylor at the old Honor Farm facility on West Grayson Road. The ambitious project comes after the camp, founded by Kimberlie Gamino, spent its first 16 years moving from site to site for its day and over-night camps.

Once completed, the $10 million project will be first medically supervised permanent camp facility dedicated to children with heart disease, which is the No. 1 birth defect nationally. This year, the efforts were infused with $2 million after Assemblyman Adam Gray helped to secure funding in the state budget for infrastructure and new construction.

“They have a tremendous vision for this place,” Gray said at the groundbreaking event Saturday afternoon. “This is something Stanislaus County should be extremely proud of.”

Last year, more than 700 campers enjoyed the camp’s programs, which are provided free to families. The camp was inspired and named after Gamino’s son, Taylor, who was born with only half a heart and has undergone several open heart surgeries since.

The nonprofit purchased the 22-acre facility near the banks of the San Joaquin River from the county about two years ago for $723,000. Originally built in 1950, the Honor Farm housed up to 350 inmates at its peak. But in 2010, two barracks were destroyed by fire, and in 2013, the county vacated the property and put it up for sale the following year.

“This has turned into such a happy place. It’s remarkable what Kim and her family have done here,” said Stanislaus County Chief Operations Officer Patricia Hill Thomas. “This was a jail for decades and decades, and now it will be a place for children and families to enjoy.”

Turning the former detention center into a fun-filled camp for kids will take a lot of renovation, work and money. Some of the existing buildings are being retrofitted and turned into a recreation center, dining hall and ice cream parlor. A massive old water storage tank will be converted into a rock climbing wall. And a new amphitheater is planned near the banks of the water. 
 

Gamino has set forth an aggressive time line for the project. This summer, day camps were held at the facility, and by next June, she wants the overnight camps to begin on the site. The camp also will have a pool, boat house, archery area and heart education center.

One of the first projects will be to build 10 cabins for campers to stay overnight. Ultimately, 20 cabins will be built to house up to 200 campers at a time.

“As a mom, you want to give your kids everything, but I can’t give (my son) what camp gives him,” said longtime Camp Taylor volunteer Patty Reed, whose son was born with congenital heart disease and started coming to camp 15 years ago. “The friendships and camaraderie with people who can relate to what he is going through is everything.”

Besides the $2 million from the state, the new fundraising campaign Building Taylor’s Dream has received $250,000 from local philanthropists John and June Rodgers and $150,000 from Ripon businessman David Hegarty. Several area service clubs also have pitched in with donations and volunteer work.

“We’re building a little city for hearts here,” Gamino said.

To find out more or donate to Camp Taylor, visit www.kidsheartcamp.org.