The following is an interview with Karen Murphy, Executive Director of the Camphill Foundation, an organization that has strengthened, rescued and funded many Camphill endeavors.
Correspondence: What are some of the ways the Camphill Foundation through its grant program has been able to support, or ward off potential disaster for, Camphill communities in the time of this pandemic?
Karen Murphy: This time of Covid-19 shutdown and slowly reopening has certainly been a challenge for our communities. One thing we started to do early last summer was to check in with our communities, to see what their needs were. Communicating with the Camphill leaders and trustees became more important than ever, as we navigated Covid-19 not just as individual communities, but as a region of support for one another.
Because we were in such unusual circumstances, I met individually with every community considering a grant application in advance of the grant process opening for the year. These meetings were invaluable to helping us understand what the needs were. By the fall grant cycle, we knew that there were significant unusual expenses for things like personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, outdoor meeting spaces, reimagining core programs, and even the need for revenue support when some friends/villagers left their communities during the shutdown to be with family.
All of this information helped the Grant Review Committee to discern that a special request to the board for additional funding would be warranted and well used, if granted.
Correspondence: Can you describe the thinking leading to the Foundation’s decision to release more funding than normal last year? Were there hesitations?
I’m biased, but I think our board is amazing – generous, compassionate, committed to Camphill. When Guy Alma, who is the head of the Grant Review Committee, presented the request for additional funds, what we heard in response from Board members was:
“We can be the safety net in the time of need.”
“Why are we here if we can’t serve in a time of great need?”
“This is why we exist.”
“Our purpose is to support and to serve.”
“We are able to do it, so let’s do it.”
Not a single Board member had an objection or hesitation. The trust that the funds were needed and would be used for great good was unanimous. I was especially proud to be associated with Camphill and the Foundation that moment, because I knew better than anyone just how dire some of the needs were, and what the funds would make possible.
Correspondence: Can you share a quick biography of yourself—your life prior to Camphill and how the Camphill impulse has influenced you? And your dreams for the future?
Okay… I am a born and bred New Yorker. I did my undergrad at the University of Scranton where I majored in Theology and Philosophy. I had a decade-long career in high-level fundraising in New York City, after which I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where I was assigned to Missoula, Montana, working at a day treatment center for people with chronic mental illness. I loved this work! I took people on field trips and community outings. I ran a craft group and I also ran the kitchen for about six months, which was my favorite job while there. We served lunch Monday through Friday for about 60 people and we had a great group of people in the kitchen.
Montana is easy to fall in love with, but after two years I came home to New York because my goddaughter had been born. I found a position working for the ARC in Putnam County, NY. More love in terms of work. I managed group homes and found myself drawn to the residents in my homes, even learning American Sign Language to communicate with the woman for whom I am now advocate.
I went back to school in 2014 and earned an M.A. in Theological Research, Christian Spirituality from Andover Newton Theological School. After that, it’s a quick hop, skip, and jump to Camphill, where I’m blessed to be able to bring all the skills I’ve learned over the years being a manager and leader; as well to have the freedom to be a spiritual person – something that is a challenge in so many organizations. It’s truly special to work within a Movement that not only allows the full spiritual expression of each person, but considers those expressions essential to our relationships as human beings.
As for dreams… They have shifted somewhat since Covid-19, become less extravagant and more connected with a deeper appreciation of the simple gifts of life. First on the list is to spend time with family and friends and to just be together in the same space. After that, to see as many Broadway shows as I can this year. I am also desperate to get back to my choir! Spend time walking on the beach. Someday, the PhD that taunts me, but for now, enjoying each day and each interaction.
Correspondence: How was the Foundation’s virtual gala this year?
Oh my goodness! Our Time to Bloom 2021 Virtual Gala was amazing! We raised about $225,000 – with 100% of those funds going straight into our grants program. My favorite part of the event was that so many of our communities held watch parties and then joined us live that night to say hello. It was great to see everyone. I also loved that we had Track45, the Hudson Players, a special tribute to our coworkers, our College Loan coworkers – it was a great Camphill event. If anyone wants to rewatch the program, they can find it on our website (https://camphillfoundation.org/virtual-gala-2021/.
Correspondence: What are the things the Foundation really likes to support through its grant program?
We like to support Camphill communities and our region in thriving. It’s that simple! We support the communities and we support regional initiatives. The Foundation strives to fund grants in a way that lives up to our mission: to grow, strengthen, and safeguard the Camphill impulse.
Some years this means we award more community grants for capital projects, like the solar panel installation in Camphill California or helping finalize construction on Rafael Village’s Town Center. In other years, there might be needs for staff and infrastructure development, such as the grant for Glenora Farm’s wonderful new Development Coordinator.
Coworker development and retention is an especially vital investment because coworkers are so essential to community life, so we are thrilled to see how successful the College Loan Support Program has been. Other regional supports that help us to build up the whole region are equally important – the Academy and the Association.
Correspondence: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Thank you!
The best part of my job is spending time in our communities, and I confess, I’ve been in withdrawal since February 2020! So everyone should get ready, because I’m planning to have a lot of time on the road this year. And I can’t wait to see you all!