Summer Camps and Year-Round Programs ‘Lighting a Fire of Change’ on Behalf of Special-Needs Kids
As founder and executive director of the nonprofit Project Kindle in 1998 when she was still in college, Payne has devoted much of her adult life to helping teens and young adults who have serious illnesses, disabilities, special needs and other life challenges.
What is Project Kindle?
Project Kindle provides camping programs, year-round support and advocacy, recreational experiences and peer-based HIV/AIDS education for special-needs teens and young adults ages 12 to 24.
Camp Kindle campers and their families pay nothing. The donors who support the 501(c)3 organization’s fundraising efforts and grants Payne applies for cover the costs.
Don’t miss a thing. Get breaking Santa Clarita news alerts delivered right to your inbox.
Operating on a $400,000 total annual budget, Project Kindle now serves more than 5,000 young people each year nationwide, including more than 100 in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Central to Project Kindle are its two summer camps, Camp Kindle Nebraska, near Lincoln, and Camp Kindle Santa Clarita, both attended by campers from all over the country. The camps’ outdoors environment and tailored programs run by well-trained staff provide activities that further enrich and enhance the experience for the kids.
Project Kindle’s additional programs include the Kindle Ranch Day Camp at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, which wrapped up June 20. More than 25 Santa Clarita Valley kids ages 5-12, most with various forms of autism, attended the week-long day camp and enjoyed learning experiences designed just for them.
Watch the Video and Listen to the Podcast of the Complete Interview with Eva Payne of Project Kindle, a KHTS Santa Clarita Unsung Hero
“Our focus was math, science, music and art,” she said. “In that program, we had lots of different activities. Because a lot of our kids are dealing with autism, all of the activities were very short, 20-minute intervals of various activities through those different subjects. A typical day was, ‘Go! Go! Go!’ So we moved from one (activity) to the next, and they were fun. You might think, ‘Science? What are you doing there?’ But we had really fun, interactive kid activities that Erin, our programs coordinator developed.
In the weeks before camp started, Payne said, “Erin actually went out and visited every single family and did an intake to see what works best with these kids. So, we developed our program around the needs of our campers.”
Project Kindle Founder Knew She Wanted to Make a Difference
Payne, who grew up in Westlake Village, founded Project Kindle and the first Project Kindle summer camp 15 years ago while she was a student at the University of Nebraska.
“I always knew I wanted to make a difference,” Payne told AM 1220 afternoon air personality Jason Endicott in an on-air interview June 17. “I thought I was going to go into broadcasting or educational theatre, and I read a play about a boy who was impacted by HIV and it just really sang true to my heart. I thought, ‘I don’t really know anyone (with HIV),’ but (I) was drawn toward that particular cause.”
Payne said she also grew up going to summer camps, and later got a job at a radio station where management allowed her the time off to keep up the tradition. For a while.
“I had been there for four years already, and they gave me a spot on the morning show, and so I couldn’t go back to camp that summer,” she said. “I was so sad. I had this great job, but I was so sad that I wasn’t singing camp songs and hanging out with kids.
“So this idea of starting a camp for kids impacted by HIV or AIDS popped into my head,” she said. “It took a year, I planned it, and then the following summer, we executed it in Nebraska. This year (2013) is our 15th summer running that particular program.”
Payne Family Moves to Santa Clarita Valley, Eva Opens Project Kindle West
Payne opened the Project Kindle West summer camp in Santa Clarita in 2005, a year after she and her family moved back to California, relocating to the Tesoro Del Valle area of the Santa Clarita Valley.
Today, based in Santa Clarita, Payne masterfully directs both the original Project Kindle Midwest and Project Kindle West while raising her own kids — one girl, 13, and five boys ages 9, 7, 5 and 2-year-old twins.
On top of being a wife, mom and nonprofit ED, Payne is a student. She is studying for her Master’s in Leadership and Management at LaVerne University through the University Center at College of the Canyons in Valencia.
RELATED: Read all of KHTS’s Santa Clarita Unsung Heroes features brought to you by Mercedes-Benz of Valencia.
Payne has a kindred spirit and avid supporter in her soul mate — her husband Chad, a Santa Clarita-based sales rep for WAXIE Sanitary Supply. Eva and Chad have been sweethearts since sixth grade, and exchanged vows in 1999.
He’s very involved in Project Kindle. “He helps in many capacities, including archery instructor, lifeguard, travel coordinator, campfire leader and more,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without him – with our kids, with our organization. He works full-time in sales so has a little bit of a flexible schedule.”
Knowing how to delegate is a leadership skill Payne already has.
“I’m a really good delegator, so I’m the one who comes up with a lot of ideas, and I find really amazing people to help execute these programs,” she said. “So, I’m not the one sitting there actually making all of it happen. I just find really good people to help make it happen, and I just deal with the fundraising side of it more than anything else.”
Payne Runs Project Kindle for the Kids, Not the Kudos
Now, to be accurate, Payne is not completely unsung for her work on behalf of special-needs young people. She’s been a finalist in the Volvo for Life Awards, honored by L’Oreal Paris as a 2007 Woman of Worth nominee, recognized by the Los Angeles Business Journal, and profiled in DirecTV’s “Hometown Heroes” series.
But in true Santa Clarita Unsung Hero spirit, Payne does not seek accolades such as those — or the recognition from KHTS and Mercedes-Benz of Valencia, for that matter. She does what she does for the kids, not the kudos. The best moments for Payne come at the end of a session like last week’s Kindle Day Camp.
“I think the most fulfilling thing is getting to see … what happens on that last day of camp or when we leave that program and move on to the next program,” she said. “When everyone (first arrives), it’s, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’ And by the end, they’ve become family. That’s really the best part.”
Payne encouraged KHTS listeners (and website visitors and YouTube channel viewers) to find out more about Project Kindle and ways to help by visiting www.ProjectKindle.org, or calling 877-800-CAMP (2267). You can also check out the Project Kindle YouTube channel.
“Just reach out to us and we’ll find a good fit for you,” she said.
Photos: Courtesy Project Kindle.
Mercedes-Benz of Valencia Salutes Santa Clarita’s Unsung Heroes
Mercedes-Benz of Valencia is proud to be part of the Santa Clarita Valley, not only giving you the superior customer service you deserve, but also giving back to our community by supporting our schools, sports teams, Sheriff’s Station and nonprofit organizations. Now, Mercedes-Benz of Valencia and KHTS have teamed up to present “Santa Clarita’s Unsung Heroes,” a series of special features spotlighting local residents who make a difference in our valley. With new contributions also comes a new Mercedes management team. Visit Mercedes-Benz of Valencia today.
Source: Santa Clarita News