Exploring the Double H Ranch on a Private Tour for Donors with Director Max Yurenda
The Double H Ranch, a “Hole in the Wall Camp” co-founded by local entrepreneur Charley Wood and the actor Paul Newman, provides specialized programs and year-round support for children and their families dealing with life-threatening illnesses.
Since the Ranch officially opened its doors on July 4, 1993, it has served more than 17,000 children. Named after the gang in the movie ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ it was the second “Hole in the Wall Camp” in what has become the world’s largest network of not-for-profit camps for children ages 6 to 16 with serious life-threatening illnesses.
Recently, a group of supporters was treated to a summer kick-off breakfast and a guided tour provided by camp CEO Max Yurenda. “You’ll meet some wonderful people and see some incredible, inspirational kids here today,” Yurenda said. “This is technically a closed camp so we usually do not open it up to the public for tours.”
At the start of the outing Yurenda said that thanks to the medical team at the camp, “there is nothing that is not possible here.” Yurenda explained that the 320-acre facility was once the Hidden Valley Resort Dude Ranch.
According to Yurenda, the property was purchased by Charley Wood in 1991 with the intention of expanding the original concept of the Hole in the Wall Camp to the Adirondacks. Wood drew his inspiration from the Connecticut camp started by Newman in 1988 and sought Newman’s support to help create the Double H (Health & Happiness) Ranch.
The camp is situated on Lake Vanare (a private lake) in the town of Lake Luzerne. “Fishing is a very, very popular activity with the campers,” Yurenda said. “The core values of what we established 19 years ago still exist but we’re always trying to mix it up. Our format, very simply, is fun is a big aspect but let’s put some challenge into it as well, make sure that they succeed and then spend some time reflecting on what they have accomplished.”
Yurenda said that based on the testimonials received from the parents, the carry-over value into the campers’ everyday life is immeasurable. “It’s not just one week at camp and then it’s over. It’s something they take back with them and they never forget,” he said.
Yurenda said over 70 percent of the campers come from New York State. “Early on we used to host more international kids because we had the ability to do that,” he said. “We have six formal partnerships with regional hospitals which have kids who want or need to come to camp.”
There are 10 residential cabins that can house 126 campers each week. “We’re in the process of replacing the asphalt-shingle roofs on all of our buildings with metal roofs,” Yurenda said. “We are putting $300,000 to $500,000 annually into facility upgrades,” he explained.
Yurenda said the camp is basically a centralized community surrounded by a beautiful trail system which supports hiking and horseback riding in the summer as well as adaptive snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
In addition to the Lake Vanare waterfront, programs are offered in several on-site buildings such as the Dining Hall, the Picnic Pavilion, Happy Barn and Pasture, the Discovery Zone, Paul’s Body Shop (the infirmary) and Whitney Chapel and Arboretum donated by socialite Mary Lou Whitney in honor of her late husband.
Yurenda said the building that houses a performance stage can accommodate 250 people for Registration and Creative Arts. It includes a computer lab featuring Dell and iMac computers used for photography/videography programs and weekly newsletter creation.
Charley’s Chalet is an indoor facility accommodating 150-200 people that serves as a ski lodge for the Adaptive Winter Sports Program. The building doubles as the Arts & Crafts facility during the Summer Residential Camp program. It also serves as a meeting place for the camp’s spring and fall family-based programs.
According to Linda Smith, Double H Individual Programs Officer, the Double H Ranch hosts the only privatized Adaptive Winter Sports Program in the Northeast, solely available to children and families with special needs, not open to the public and free-of-charge.
Smith said one mother told her, “I never thought my son, who cannot walk, would ever be able to ski. When I saw the huge smile on his face, I knew we were in the right place.”
Smith said the camp has taken on the Challenge presented by the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps this year to raise $60,000 from donors who sponsor a camper for the very first time. “If we achieve that goal we will receive a $20,000 grant from the Association,” she said. To date, ten individuals, businesses and organizations have chosen to lead the way as Trail Guides by sponsoring one or more children for a week at Summer Camp. “With the help of several more generous donors, we hope to meet the Challenge,” she said.
For more information, call the Double H Ranch at 518-696-5921 ext. 228.