Popular Sarah's Science camp files for bankruptcy, other summer camps forge ahead

Sarah’s Science, a popular outdoor summer day camp based out of Castro Valley since 1987, is shutting down, according to bankruptcy filings. 

Sarah Shaffer, the camp’s founder and director, sent an email to the parents of former campers in January informing them the camp had run out of money and she, the sole proprietor, had filed for personal bankruptcy, Berkeleyside first reported.

"This is the hardest letter I’ve ever written," Shaffer wrote, according to Berkeleyside. "Sarah’s Science / This Land is Your Land Summer Day Camp did not survive the pandemic."

Shaffer told parents that she had tried to cut back on expenses and create online programming to stay afloat. But even a $200,600 PPP loan she received in May did not prevent its closure, according to the email. 

The bankruptcy filings on Jan. 20 show all the money she owes to families who live in Piedmont, Oakland, Orinda, Pleasant Hill and other cities, all of whom have sent their children to the science-based camp. The parents will not be getting their money back. 

The bankruptcy filing shows that the camp's assets are worth about $2.24 million and that she owes about $2.55 million. About $641,000 of that debt is to families who prepaid camp tuition in 2019 in advance of the 2020 session that never happened. 

Sarah’s Science was held each summer under the Tilden Carousel in Berkeley and in the redwood forest of Roberts Park in Oakland. Shaffer had been voted "Best Science Teacher for Kids" by the East Bay Express, and her camp offered science and nature programs for children, parents and teachers for more than three decades. 

Neither Shaffer nor her bankruptcy attorney, Kathy Quon Bryant, immediately responded back for comment on Friday. 

The closing of Sarah's Science, which as of Friday was not reflected on the camp's website, follows a year after the popular Galileo closed and filed for bankruptcy, as the camp was forced to close because of coronavirus. 

However, after a tumultuous year, Galileo has reorganized the company and plans on offering an in-person camp this summer, according to its website. 

Camps have been hit hard by the pandemic. Many shut down last summer over virus concerns.

Camp Mather, which is run by the city of San Francisco, already announced it will not be open this summer. 

But others, like Camp Kee Tov in Berkeley, are forging ahead, albeit with modifications. Even last summer, Camp Kee Tov ran a modified version of camp at the Cal campus, with all campers and staff wearing masks and offering no extras like sleepovers or field trips.

This year looks a little more promising.

For example, San Francisco-based Camp Tawonga is set to open this June in Tuolumne County near Yosemite. The camp schedule will be modified to longer-term overnight stays to create camper and staff bubbles. Some staff has already been vaccinated. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez