Like Other ASOs, One Heartland Will Expire Unless Its Arteries Are Pumped with Extra Fuel
by Dann Dulin

Photos Courtesy One Heartland

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the social and economic lives of millions worldwide. The lockdowns and strict social distancing measures put in place have threatened the survival of countless businesses and organizations. Among the casualties is the HIV and AIDS organization, One Heartland.

Inspired by seven-year-old Nile Sandeen, an HIV-positive youth from Mequon, Wisconsin, One Heartland was founded by Neil Willenson in 1993. At the time, One Heartland (then named Camp Heartland) focused on giving kids affected by HIV and AIDS the best week of their lives——and it did just that at various camp sites throughout the Midwest.

In 1996, the organization purchased its facility in Willow River, Minnesota, giving Camp Heartland its permanent home, thanks to a donation from Minnesota Twins Manager Paul Molitor. The location featured a main lodge, cabins, three lakes and miles of walking trails. Most of all, it became a beacon of hope for children across the country battling illness and discrimination.

That same year, the organization went through its first program expansion, opening Camp Hollywood HEART in Malibu, California, enabling it to serve even more deserving children. By 2005, Camp Heartland had provided over 5,300 camp experiences to young people, expanded its permanent facility to include multiple shower houses and a baseball field, and created OneFutures, a mentorship program for young adults affected by the virus who had become too old to participate in the traditional camp program.

The Camp Heartland mission was changing, too. Although HIV and AIDS remained a life-threatening illness, advances in medical treatment meant that more people were living longer. Recognizing this change in needs, Camp Heartland began more year-round support programs for campers. This expansion necessitated a name change. In 2006, Camp Heartland became One Heartland, heralding other changes, as One Heartland began to partner with outside organizations to host their programs at the Willow River facility.
Presently, the likelihood of camp being able to gather safely this summer is extremely low.
Because One Heartland requires the collaboration and commitment of an entire community——volunteers, seasonal staff, international staff, local staff, supporters, fundraising events, campers, participants, caregivers and medical personnel——coupled with significant investments of time, money, and energy, it is not practical for the organization to continue its work this summer. (Though it is possible that in collaboration with its longtime partner, Hollywood HEART, they may take the camp online.)

“We will be offering an online arts-based program,” explains Patrick Kindler, Executive Director. “We are currently gathering data from our participants to understand better what kind of programming they would like to participate in. Hollywood HEART has offered to develop and implement the online programming.”

Beyond this summer, there is the real possibility that One Heartland could become another fatality of COVID-19! Because of the virus, One Heartland has already suffered the loss of many thousands of dollars in revenue, donations (as funders pivot to addressing emergency relief efforts), and unrecoverable expenses. Lacking an endowment or operating reserves, it will require more than substantial staff layoffs, pay reductions, and other belt-tightening measures for them to survive. One Heartland’s future is going to depend on….ingenuity and generosity.

In order to secure the future of camp, One Heartland is looking at having to raise almost $350,000 in the upcoming weeks. “We have raised $165,000 so far towards our goal,” Kindler exhilarates. “I am very appreciative for all of the support. Our community is just so amazing!”

The reality of the situation, however, is that if that effort fails, One Heartland will be forced to close their doors forever, ending twenty-eight years of bringing hope to young people who need it most.

By the stroke of commitment, Heartland will continue to beat.

For more information about how you may help, contact One Heartland by email: [email protected]; by phone: (612) 824-6464; or visit its website: http://www.oneheartland.org.

Dann Dulin is a Senior Editor of A&U.