For 50 of the past 100 years since their founding, the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception embraced their educational ministry to youth through Camp Neringa. In 1969 the Sisters moved Camp Immaculata from Putnam, CT to Vermont, established Neringa, and throughout the years, influenced multiple generations of campers by fostering Catholic values and Lithuanian traditions while providing significant opportunities for positive character development and personal growth.
With the passage of time and a decreasing number of vocations, the Sisters wisely began planning for the future. Realizing that the value of a summer camp experience with one’s peers who share the same ethnic identity is immeasurable, they wanted to ensure that the mission of Neringa continues regardless of the ability of the Sisters to be involved. Over the years they gave the lay community more and more responsibility for Neringa and they fully realized that they could not retain the camp property itself, yet they wanted it to stay within the Lithuanian-American community.
Enter the “Neringa 100” capital campaign. An unprecedented mobilization took place when the Sisters agreed to sell the camp property to the nonprofit corporation Camp Neringa, Inc. (CNI), which has been effectively running the camp’s administration since 2015 (and as Neringa, Inc. since 1996.)
The campaign was launched in June of 2019, during Neringa’s 50th anniversary celebration. Even though the Sisters granted a considerable discount from the appraised value of the property, the goal of raising $1 million to purchase the camp was daunting. It was a daring challenge but everyone was enthusiastic and agreed that it could be reached in three years.
The outpouring of support was overwhelming! Every week donor checks, big and small, arrived in the camp’s mailbox, often along with heartfelt remembrances of camp experiences, praise for the Sisters and good wishes for the future.
In just over a year the campaign reached its goal and the documents for the purchase were prepared and officially signed on December 8, 2020, fittingly the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
“The success of this campaign is a testament to the vision and values of the Sisters, and the mission of Neringa which they created,” said Dana Grajauskas, Director of Mission & Capital Campaign for CNI. “Neringa has had such a positive impact on so many people, in so many ways, and it has been humbling to hear everyone’s testimonials given the opportunity.”
The campaign and the overwhelming support of the Neringa community was all the more impressive knowing that during the same year several Lithuanian-American institutions have struggled to remain open.
The pandemic postponed the XVI Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival and even Neringa itself was forced to cancel all in-person programming. However, the same pandemic has opened new ideas for Neringa, as it included several virtual firsts such as online camp programming, celebrations, and even a digital walkathon.
The new owners, Camp Neringa, Inc, will continue to work with the Sisters as much as possible, to embrace the opportunity to make Camp Neringa more than just a children’s summer camp. “We have been blessed with so many generous donations and we had the chance to bring a positive story of stability and comfort during challenging times,” said Linas Orentas, President of the Board of Directors for Camp Neringa, Inc.
“The Sisters and Neringa have given so much to those of us who have camped there and it is incredibly exciting to have this chance to harness the community’s passion and share it beyond the boundaries of the campground,” he added.
Camp Neringa, Inc. now turns to the next chapter. One of the first steps is to re–evaluate the leadership structure of the organization, to ensure a permanent commitment of time and talent to managing and leading the organization. In doing so it is critical to ensure the continuity of the Sisters’ mission, while also adapting to the new reality of virtual programming and new opportunities to provide enriching programs for adults. Neringa is also harnessing the enthusiasm of the capital campaign to build an endowment fund that will serve to make the camp self-reliant and continue to inspire and embrace many generations to come.
As Sister Ignė, speaking on behalf of the North American Sisters’ Council, said, “We are hopeful, overjoyed and enthusiastic to be working together with the Neringa community. We are especially glad to see that this next historic step is being taken with such dedication and loving care.”
Camp Neringa, Inc. Board Member