It was an auspicious start for Stephen and Elizabeth Wampler when they first met in Coronado nearly 30 years ago. “I remember not knowing how to react the first time we met,” says Elizabeth, but they found themselves becoming friends as they were thrown together in a variety of social situations and she began to see past his cerebral palsy and wheelchair. Fast forward and they got married at Centennial Park and went on to have two children, Charlotte and Joseph. In 2002, while he was working as an environmental engineer, she was in hotel sales, and their kids were little, he felt inspired to start the Stephen J. Wampler Foundation.
“I wanted to replicate the wilderness camp experience I had as a child that changed the trajectory of my life,” he remembers. This dynamic duo worked hard soliciting support and funding, and they can’t say enough about how the Coronado community has supported them throughout their journey. “Our goal was to take the sadness out of a child’s disability and show them joy and potential,” says Elizabeth, who says this is based on Stephen’s personal experience.
Their first supporter and donor was Coronado local Annette Winn, whose son Charlie now works for the foundation as a videographer. “The people in Coronado are why we stepped out in faith, and they have helped us through the good and bad times,” says Elizabeth. They went back to the original camp that Stephen had attended and found it had closed. The new owners were happy about a reopening plan and leased it to them for $1.00 a year. After a decade there, they were given short notice that they had to close the camp and they scrambled to find a new location. That was easier said than done because Stephen had specific parameters like proper elevation, water, electricity, and other features needed to create a successful camp. Fundraising continued, and two years later in 2017 they found the perfect location, with 129 acres and a nine-acre lake in Soda Springs near Lake Tahoe in Northern California. A generous donor purchased and gifted to their foundation the former Girl Scout camp, complete with a large dining hall, commercial kitchen and 18 buildings, which needed remodeling.
The renovation process began in earnest and they were thrilled to welcome their first campers to the new Camp Wamp in 2018. Camps run for four weeks every summer, with 25 campers per week. Specifically designed for kids with physical disabilities, the camp hosts children ages 8 through 18, with everything from spinal bifida, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, amputations, blindness, and deafness. “We see the camp as a stepping stone for a bigger life for these children. It’s all about what they can do and to instill big expectations,” highlights Elizabeth.
Things took an unexpected turn in 2020, when Joseph and Charlotte were trying to decide what to get their parents for Christmas. Initial thoughts were a watch and an air fryer, and then Joseph had the idea that since they weren’t social media savvy, he would make a Tik Tok video to increase the foundation’s social media following. They submitted a video for a Chipotle burrito contest, and ended up winning $10,000 and had a “Wamp-urrito” named after them. Chipotle also donated $225,000 to their foundation, after doing a national check total round-up for two weeks. Their content caught the eye of YouTube sensation David Dobrik, who helped share their story. Next, they were asked to be on Good Morning America. At this point it was all still a secret, with Stephen and Elizabeth having no idea that any of this was taking place. Then, while being interviewed live on-air, the full story came out to the surprise and astonishment of Stephen and Elizabeth.
When the world shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, Camp Wamp paused for 2020 and 2021, but they pivoted knowing they had to find a way to still help kids with disabilities. Reaching out to the founder of ESET, the response was, “Give them anything they want.” The result was a two month, 16-city road trip, treating four kids at each location to unique experiences. The designated crew for the trip was Joseph Wampler and his buddies Jonathon Mehki, Lance Mann, Sean O’Connor, and Elliott MacAdams. The recipients of the program were selected via social media and were provided experiences such as going behind the scenes at Fenway Park, riding in a seaplane in Seattle, a photo shoot with Vogue Magazine in New York, visiting the inner sanctum of the Pentagon, riding in the Weinermobile, experiencing the Jackson Hole Rodeo, and doing an obstacle course with the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders, to name just a few of the adventures.
The Foundation staff consists of five full-time employees, two part-time year round employees, and 50 summer employees. Their next big endeavor started right before the pandemic with the establishment of an endowment. Currently at $2 million and counting, the goal is $25 million by 2025. Funding is obtained through grant writing, individual donations, family foundations, and corporations.
Among the many accomplishments of Stephen is his inspirational five-night, six-day climb up El Capitan in Yosemite in 2010. The inspirational journey was captured in the film “Wampler’s Ascent” which is available on Amazon Prime. Elizabeth emphasizes that Stephen’s disability has never slowed him down and is what makes him want to help others realize their potential.
“I personally understand that disability is a frail topic,” comments Elizabeth. Upcoming initiatives include creating videos and working with corporations to make talking about disabilities more comfortable, helping people with disabilities find jobs, and connecting with families with disabled babies in the hospital to offer support from the beginning.
“I feel like we haven’t even begun,” says Stephen. For many years they operated the foundation out of their home and weren’t looking to change when they happened to see a “for rent” sign on a small office in Coronado and knew it was meant to be the Wampler Foundation headquarters.
When this dynamic team started their foundation 20 years ago, they had no idea of all the amazing opportunities that would follow to enable them to help disabled kids realize their full potential. They are ready for the next 20 years, and the endowment fund will help them sustain the foundation for generations to come. You can find this family foundation as @the.wampler.way on TikTok with 762,000 followers, on Instagram with more than 57,000 followers, and at their website at stephenjwamplerfoundation.org.