When the Santa Cruz Mountains caught fire in August after a lightning storm passed through the Central Coast and greater Bay Area, almost every community was forced to evacuate the area. Many of those evacuees were left wondering whether their homes and businesses—their life’s work for some—were consumed by the devastating CZU Lightning Complex fires.

That included Christina Krem, the camp director of Camp Krem, a nonprofit located in Boulder Creek that provides children and adults with developmental disabilities recreation, education and adventure opportunities in a safe environment.

As the CZU fires raged, Krem said she was holding out hope that the 95-acre campus had miraculously survived the blaze’s wrath. But then the calls came in.

“We heard from these couple of journalists that the damage was pretty extensive, and then shortly thereafter we were given the opportunity to go back for ourselves and see it,” Krem said.

Krem called the first walkthrough “crushing” and “mind blowing.”

“Places that for decades have been full of people and music and dancing and joy, just seeing them completely decimated, it was heartbreaking,” she said. “Walking around was quite a surreal experience.”

Krem says that 95% of the campus was either destroyed or damaged, and that it will take at least $5 million to rebuild more than 27 facilities—many of which had stood for decades.

“It could be possibly $10 million to get us back up and running,” she said. “We have a long road ahead.”

Camp Krem has tabbed its rebuild, Project Phoenix. It plans to use the cash to reconstruct many of the old buildings with various upgrades such as using fire-resistant materials, making some areas more spacious, installing bathrooms in every cabin and improving the design to be more eco-friendly.

Those looking to donate to help Camp Krem rise from the ashes can do so by donating through Santa Cruz Gives, the online countywide holiday giving campaign that kicked off on Nov. 18.

From now until year’s end, people can donate to Camp Krem and 39 other nonprofits serving various communities in Santa Cruz County at Santacruzgives.org. There, donors can browse individual pages to learn about each nonprofit’s mission and “Big Idea” project for 2021 that will be funded with the online donations.

Camp Krem’s “Big Idea” is to rebuild its campus and welcome campers back.

Alexander Angel Krem (Christina’s grandfather) founded Camping Unlimited in 1957, and established the camp in 1962 after purchasing 45 acres of land near Boulder Creek. Since then, Camp Krem has welcomed in an estimated 14,000 children and adults with various special needs. Before the fire, it offered a wide array of programs, including a Sleepaway Summer Camp and Weekend Respite program.

In 2019, Camp Krem served more than 600 families and 1,250 campers.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the CZU fires, the camp will shift to virtual programming, Krem said.

“It is important to us that we continue to provide our campers with connection and engagement during these difficult times,” she said.

Santa Cruz Gives, which was founded by the Pajaronian’s sister paper Good Times with the support of The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County, prides itself on reaching donors during their busy day-to-day schedules.

Selected nonprofits will receive donated funds, matching funds and be eligible for three awards: Most Donors Overall, Most Donors Under 35 years old and Most Innovative Program. Each honor comes with a $1,000 award.

Last year, Santa Cruz Gives raised $413,161 for 37 nonprofits. Total donations increased by 74.5% over 2018, and the number of donors increased by 48% over 2018.

This year, the campaign has already raised $456,354 as of Wednesday.

Other nonprofits primarily serving Santa Cruz County’s disabled community selected by Santa Cruz Gives:


Organization Mission: Hope’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities and mental health needs. We serve more than 350 adults and teens in Santa Cruz County annually. Our seven programs emphasize vocational development and community participation. From a mobile work group for clients interested in working on crews, to job training and placement, to a mental health program offering case management and psychiatric services, Hope Services is a leader in providing innovative programming to local clients.

Big Idea: From Hope to Home

To keep our clients connected to programming that has had to close during the pandemic, Hope Services is transitioning to our new remote learning service: From Hope to Home. We are requesting funds to equip 50 clients with laptops and tablets to access live, interactive, daily online programming with our staff so that this vulnerable population will not experience isolation. It is vital to provide programs in which individuals with disabilities can develop social connections, learn, develop their interests, and find meaningful engagement through employment and other endeavors, just like the general population.


Organization Mission: Shared Adventures is dedicated to improving quality of life for those with disabilities. In the belief that recreation, fun, challenge, and access to the outdoors are essential to health and fulfillment, we get people outdoors and moving beyond imagined limitations.Approximately 2,000 individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities take part in Shared Adventures activities each year, benefiting individuals, families, and the wider community.

Big Idea: Make Santa Cruz a Destination for Visitors with Disabilities

Shared Adventures organizes many accessible activities. We would like to promote the opportunities for disabled visitors to enjoy local activities by updating our 15-year-old Santa Cruz County Access Guide, a resource guide with “easy visit” plans for disabled travelers and the local disabled community alike. We will work with Visit Santa Cruz County to publicize resources such as transportation, beach accessibility, accommodations, and more. A full calendar of events is also provided through Zoom, such as adaptive yoga and exercise classes, dance parties, bingo, book club, and arts and crafts—with robust participation.

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Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.


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