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Camp Confidence plans 50th anniversary celebration

Rick Olson throws a water balloon during the balloon toss at the 2014 Right Friends Picnic at the Camp Confidence Learning Center.

BRAINERD, Minn. -- Half a century is a milestone certainly worth celebrating, and that’s just what Confidence Learning Center near Sylvan Lake intends to do.

Confidence Learning Center is a Minnesota camp for people with developmental and cognitive disabilities with a heritage that dates back to 1969. Its 50th anniversary celebration, presented by Gull Lake Glass, will take place 4-8 p.m. May 3 at the camp.

“During this ceremony, we will be burying a time capsule of items used today, as well as items from our past to remind us of how we’ve gotten to where we are,” event coordinator Sarah Smith said. “What a better way to celebrate than to ask the community, our supporters, volunteers and user groups to bring items that will be a part of this capsule.”

Confidence Learning Center, otherwise known as Camp Confidence, is an outdoor center that also serves the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, in addition to those with developmental and cognitive disabilities.

“What we’re just looking for is anything that people may have from their memories of Confidence Learning Center over the last 50 years, whether it’s pictures or a craft that maybe reminded them of their time there,” Smith said of the time capsule.

Items welcomed for consideration include pictures from time at the camp and memorabilia from events or time spent at camp. To be included, email a picture and/or description of the item to or call 218-828-2344.

“And we will also be putting current items in there, so, for example, we will be putting a current Brainerd Dispatch in there, so that we have the date of when it’s going into the ground,” Smith said.

Camp Confidence began when Dick Endres, a small group of local business people and others from the Brainerd State Hospital formed the Minnesota Therapeutic Camp, now known as Confidence Learning Center.

“We’ve served over 200 families a year and 200 group homes, so we’re serving all ages and all abilities,” Executive Director Jeff Olson said. “I remember Dick Endres, the founder of the camp, telling me that the average was 35 years old for someone to pass away from some form of cognitive disability. Well now people are living longer and longer … and they need more care, so there’s still that niche that’s huge.”

The 140-acre camp includes nine cabins in different sizes and a main building named the Mariucci Lodge after hockey legend John Mariucci, a camp supporter.

“Confidence Learning Center is different from any other camp. Campers come with their caregivers, whether that is a family member or -- if it’s a group home -- a staff member, and do team-building and growth experience activities in outdoor recreation areas,” Smith said.

Camp Confidence aims to promote self-confidence, self-esteem and the “necessary skills to become full, contributing members of society” through hands-on activities and participation in a variety of outdoor experiences and educational programs.

Archery, cross-country skiing, canoeing and fishing, for example, allow campers to challenge their limits and “prove themselves to the most important person of all, themselves,” according to officials.

“We are open year-round, which is another unique factor, and our average camper age is probably 42 years old, so we’re not just a youth camp. We’re definitely open for people from 3 months to 101,” Smith said.

Celebration schedule of events

To attend the 50th anniversary celebration on May 3 at the Confidence Learning Center, RSVP by emailing or call 218-828-2344.

  • 4-6 p.m.: Open house with hors d'oeuvres from Black Bear Lodge and Saloon, and beer-tasting and root beer floats from Roundhouse Brewery.

  • 6-7 p.m. 50th anniversary celebration ceremony.

  • 7-8 p.m.: Johnny Cash tribute show featuring Doug Allen Nash.