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The Mountain climbs back to solvency

Increased donations, new interim director bolster North Carolina retreat center.
By Donald E. Skinner
4.11.11

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The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center

The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. (Anne Hornberger)

The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center, which faced a severe financial crisis last fall, is making a substantial recovery, says board member Bruce Kirkman, liaison to The Mountain staff.

In October, faced with closing because of lack of funds, the Unitarian Universalist camp and program center laid off five staff members, including longtime CEO Tom Warth and UU singer-songwriter Shelley Jackson Denham, who was director of residencies. The layoffs allowed the camp, which sits atop a mountain near Highlands, N.C., to remain open through the end of the year.

Kirkman said supporters of The Mountain rallied to it this past winter. “More development dollars were given after the board intervention on October 5 than had been raised in any full year since 2003, many by persons who had not given in the last three years.” He said that allowed the successful completion of 2010 and enabled the camp to set a full calendar for 2011. He said donors contributed $200,000 by the end of the year and another $100,000 since January 1.

The board has hired an interim director, Lee Reading, who began April 1. Reading has served as a program director, development director, and executive director of camps and outdoor academies over the past three decades, said Kirkman. He has worked for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Eagles Nest Camp at Brevard, N.C.; North Carolina Outward Bound School; and the Biltmore Estate at Asheville, N.C. Reading is a member of the UU Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley.

Kirkman said increased giving has allowed The Mountain to develop a balanced budget for 2011. The center’s budget is about $1.3 million annually. A fifth of that comes from donations and the rest from program participants. He added, “The board is committed to operating within our budget this year.”

Kirkman said last fall that no staff members were being blamed for the center’s financial difficulties. “The financial times have just caught us. We have physical assets. We have goodwill. We just don’t have cash. Groups that used to bring 60 people now come with 20 or 30.”

In the announcement this spring Kirkman said board members and volunteers kept the camp going through the winter. Donations may be sent through The Mountain’s website or to The Mountain, P.O. Box 1299, Highlands, N.C. 28741.

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