The History of ESF Dream Camp

26 years and counting!

Counselor fist-bumping a student
Rouse brothers and students

In 1982, at ages 15 and 11, the spirited Rouse brothers (Michael and Bill) started a summer day camp. The Haverford School in Haverford, PA donated use of their facilities on the condition that ESF provide camp scholarships for at least two children who could not afford to attend. In running this camp, the brothers experienced firsthand how something as simple as a summer camp could make a difference in a child’s life. After exponential growth and expansion, a camp parent at their Greenwich Academy location named Mr. Paul Raether, partnered with the duo to create the first location that was 100% scholarship based at his alma mater Trinity College in Hartford, CT. After a successful launch of ESF Dream Camp at Trinity, the Rouse brothers created the ESF Dream Camp Foundation in 2002 to put more structure behind their philanthropic efforts. Today, Dream Camp serves students residing in historically under-resourced communities throughout Hartford, CT and Philadelphia, PA, delivering innovative year-long programming with a holistic approach. Since its founding, Dream Camp has provided over 9,000 scholarships to students in need for their After School Academy and award-winning Summer Camp.

“We started Dream Camp because of our strong belief of the relationship between education and opportunity,” said Raether. “If you give children access to an outstanding education, it opens up new vistas for them. It is our sincere hope that the Dream Campers continue to take advantage of the opportunities that Dream Camp at Trinity College ofers them.”

group pic

From left to right, former Dream Camp student and current team member Howell McFarlane enjoys the Trinity 25th Anniversary Celebration with Paul Mounds, Trinity ‘07 and Dream Camp Team Member 2004-2007, Michael Rouse, co-founder and Executive Director of ESF Camps and Experiences, and Paul Raether, ’68, Dream Camp co-founder and long-time supporter. Mounds was instrumental in securing a $1 million grant from the CT Department of Education while serving as Chief of Staff for Governor Ned Lamont in 2022.

Dream Meals

The Dream Meals program ran throughout 2020 and 2021 to ensure food security for our families. Dream Camp partnered with nationally recognized Chef Frankie Celenza and Philadelphia’s Carlinos Market to create a unique culinary arts program for our families to ensure food security and build culinary skills. With the financial support of foundations, corporations and individuals, Dream Camp was able to react quickly and effectively during the height of the pandemic and served 22,145 meals.

Dream Meals came in at a time where things were very rough. It was the best idea because it brought us together as a family to try new recipes, plus the quality time was priceless.

Dream Camp Parent

Packing food for delivery
Dream Camp staff and volunteers on the road
Food delivered
Safe deliveries during an unsettling time
Preparing food
Healthy ingredients + life skills practice = SMILES