President's View by Wesley Combs
Tending an Oasis
Let me reintroduce myself. If you are a reader of Letters, you may know me from my Intentionally Inclusive column or from CAMPshots where I was fortunate to be featured from time to time by Rehoboth’s famed paparazzi photographer (and friend) Tony Burns.
As I sat down to write my inaugural column from the perspective of being CAMP Rehoboth’s new Board President, I could not help but reflect on the journey to holding such an esteemed role in our community.
To be frank, it is a bit daunting, knowing I stand on the shoulders of the two previous and only board presidents in CAMP Rehoboth’s history, Murray Archibald and Chris Beagle, both of whom I am blessed to count as friends. More importantly, it is because of their steadfast commitment to creating a positive environment inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities in Rehoboth Beach that my husband Greg Albright and I now call Rehoboth Beach our home.
In case you are still scratching your head wondering who the heck I am, here’s a quick recap. I met my husband in 1989 when he shared a beach house with Murray and his future husband, Steve Elkins. At the time, being gay was no walk in the park. Living openly meant you could lose your job, have family and friends reject you, be the victim of violence, or risk losing your life to AIDS.
Coming to Rehoboth was then, and still is today, an oasis—a safe haven where LGBTQ people could leave the discrimination and fear behind and truly be who we are. In the early 90s, tensions between longtime residents and Rehoboth’s growing LGBTQ community threatened to take all this away.
Steve and Murray did something about it by intentionally bringing the community together to better understand each other and build bonds between the gay and straight communities. Their efforts lead to the founding of CAMP Rehoboth, an organization that remains dedicated to “creating a positive environment inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities in Rehoboth Beach and its related communities.” I cannot think of a better way to honor the ending of my Intentionally Inclusive column than by highlighting this perfect example of the impact we can have when we set our minds to it.
Over the next 30+ years Greg and I spent every summer in Rehoboth, initially as shares in group houses and then as homeowners. We have witnessed Rehoboth’s evolution from a quiet beach hamlet to the full-service destination it has become. At the same time, the benefits from growth have also taken a toll in the form of expansive development and the gridlock traffic we have come to loathe.
Through it all, CAMP Rehoboth has been a beacon of support for the LGBTQ community in Sussex County and across Delaware. Thanks to the financial support from individuals, businesses, foundations, state and federal grants, a passionate staff, and steadfast volunteers, CAMP Rehoboth has been able to:
• Be a physical place where everyone in our community can gather safely
• Provide health and wellness services including HIV/AIDS testing, and mental health education and support
• Advocate for same-sex marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression and
• Offer community-building arts and culture programs like Women’s FEST, the Baltimore Avenue Block Party, Sun Festival, art exhibitions, and the CAMP Rehoboth Chorus.
None of this would have been possible without the countless hours of time and leadership from CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors. According to the Council of Nonprofits, “nonprofit board members are the fiduciaries who steer the organization towards a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission.”
Having served on other boards, I can tell you firsthand that each of us takes this responsibility extremely seriously. As I embark on my new role, here are some of the lessons I have learned which will help guide the way:
• CAMP Rehoboth’s interests are the priority, not mine: Good decisions are based on data, facts, and not emotion. Leverage knowledge and expertise from those on the front lines when assessing a situation.
• You must believe in what the organization does: My passion for enabling equity and opportunity in communities where I live guarantees I have the energy and attention necessary to stay the course. The privilege of working alongside the amazing staff at CAMP Rehoboth reinforces this every day.
• Having a clear vision aligns all stakeholders towards the same goal: CAMP Rehoboth cannot be everything to everyone. The needs of our community are constantly changing, which requires ongoing assessment of what we do to assure we are providing the right services in the most cost-effective way.
Finally, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Chris Beagle for his mentorship since joining the board in 2019 and for ensuring I was adequately prepared for the work ahead. Chris made sure I knew the history, what people were essential to CAMP Rehoboth’s success, and reminded me how CAMP Rehoboth has impacted our community. Thank you, my friend. ▼