Bennett retires from Bay Cliff
Long-time facility executive director stepping down
“It was a very thoughtful and intentional decision to come here and that was almost 30 years ago,” Bennett said during an interview prior to his departure. “My kids grew up here and have been a part of this wonderful place for so many years. It’s been a rewarding career.”
Bennett started his professional career in social work.
“When I was working at the Combined Health Services, throughout the medical center, we were working with so many people who were trapped at home and couldn’t participate in outdoor activities, whether it was swimming, fishing or boating, so I came up to Bay Cliff and I rented this camp for a week,” he said.
Combined Health Services ran its own camp for adults with disabilities called Camp Independence. After a few years of running that program, Bennett was recruited by Bay Cliff as its new director.
Bennett credits his wife, Dianne, for supporting him in this life-changing career.
“My wife and I had to make a life decision. We had four little children, four young girls; it was a big decision to take this on,” Bennett said. “You’re here 24-7 for months on end when you’re running camp and you’re running programs. So, you gain a tremendous amount. What a blessing this place is — especially for our kids to grow up here — but you also give something up. You’re not going to be going on vacation in the summertime, things like that.”
Bennett reflected on how the facility has grown during his tenure. He said there were a couple hundred participants who came through every summer when he first started. Now, attendance is over 1,000 people. Last year the camp hosted or ran 30 different programs. Bennett’s contributions to the facility’s growth are substantial but he still maintains that he is just keeping the initial vision of founders Dr. Goldie Corneliuson and Elba Morse intact.
“We stand on the shoulders of the people that came before us. We have to have a deep commitment to the groundwork that has been laid. We’ve grown it, expanded our programs to meet the needs with the core belief that all kids are important, nobody is disposable, that they are all valuable. That child with a substantial disability is just as important as anybody else,” Bennett said. “Bay Cliff has not changed. Their vision is still here. Sure we have grown — the numbers, the programs, the buildings — but that philosophy of empowering kids, setting the bar high for ourselves, I didn’t invent those things.
“One way camp culture has changed is with the advent of technology and the accessibility of the outside world. Technology has changed the culture of the facility. It’s made things faster and has called on us to work harder. It’s busier,” Bennett said.
“I remember when there were no cars in the parking lot. When people were here, it was a total investment in the community that we create here. Now, it still is but we are still connected to the world through technology.”
Even with technology creeping in, Bennett and the rest of his staff maintain an intimate environment where the relationships come first.
“We (the staff) are about teaching and growing social skills, our kids are in the constant mode of technology at home, so it’s healthy to get away from it. So we have a ‘no cell phone’ policy on camp. Staff too; we do not carry phones on our person at all,” he said. “We rise to a level of behavior and modeling that is very high. That’s a big responsibility. We do things in a way that people will have confidence in us, look for the goodness in ourselves and the goodness in our kids.”
Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated staff, Bay Cliff is not only a camp that fosters physical abilities but social growth.
After a career in service, Bennett is looking forward to being involved in the background with volunteering, grounds work and fundraising.
“I like to think that I supported that mission and that I did my best to keep that goodness here,” he said. “The world is fast-paced and there is a lot of dissension in society but when you cross that gate and get on the bridge into camp, you’re in a different place. You are in a place where people are good to each other and support each other. I wish there were more places like Bay Cliff in the world.”