Phone: (815) 713-4110 | 6903 West White Eagle Road, Leaf River, IL 61047


Dare to Embrace Difference

I hope that you are well, or as well as you can be during these tumultuous times. Depending on your worldview, you might be considering what to do in response to the what you see in the larger world—to defend rights, to counter hateful rhetoric, to rebuild movements and momentum for positive change.

I ask that you support Kupugani and our mission to continue to create a version of the world that we want to see—where issues of difference can be celebrated, and our commonalities can be recognized and appreciated.

Even as some turn inwards and reinforce only those viewpoints that reinforce their own echo chamber, we recognize that there is crucial work ahead so that we can come together. The work needs to continue as individuals and build from there. 

Like Whitney Houston back in the day, I genuinely believe that children are the future. We can teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Okay, enough of the lyrics…but the kiddos are truly the way forward.

We have the choice right now, right here, to build on progressive visions of togetherness, inclusion, and true diversity of culture, background, and thought, if we are committed to focus our efforts and attention. 

Please help Kupugani continue to foster change, Help us inspire future young people to be compassionate, caring, and open to outcomes.


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Are You Culturally Competent? Do You Want to Be?

Given the historic levels of what some have deemed a “cultural crisis” in this nation, perhaps now’s as good a time as any to challenge yourself with our cultural competence quiz.  Are you culturally competent? (Do you want to be?)


Are You Culturally Competent?


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Are You Culturally Competent?

Especially in today’s social climate, it is increasingly important to be mindful and respectful of people of a variety of backgrounds. It can be all too easy to demonize and denigrate someone who you classify as “other”.  If you think you’ve got what it takes, check out our fun, informative quiz to see if you are culturally competent. 


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Recognizing Bias to Work Toward Cultural Competence

At our summer camp outside of Chicago, we strive to achieve cultural competence as an organization, as counselors and staff, and as role models for young people.  Our goal is not to be “colorblind” or to negate differences, but rather to celebrate and appreciate ourselves as individuals, while striving to be a community that continually progresses positively.  Part of being able to be culturally competent is recognition of innate biases that we may have, so that we can act accordingly to adjust or realize our behavior. Check out this link for a great tool to help recognize automatic preferences that you have given certain circumstances.


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20 Minutes in the Day of a Brown Man in America

Today was a good day…I guess. A cop followed me for 15 minutes as I drove from small town Illinois to next small town Illinois…staying 5 yards behind me consistently, while I, wary and weary, locked the cruise control to exactly the speed limit. First 30 miles per hour, then 40, then 45, then 55, then back to 30.

The last time I had been followed for that long for that distance—that time in medium town Illinois—I had locked the cruise to 5 miles per hour above below the speed limit, before being pulled over for purportedly driving too slow. Another time in the same medium town, being followed for a slightly shorter distance, I locked it at 5 mph above and got pulled over for purportedly driving too fast. Both times, other, non-brown drivers were driving faster/slower than my “extremes.”

Indeed, DWB (driving while black/brown for the unitiated) has been a real thing in my life, beginning over 30 years ago during my late teenage years in the US. It had been a consistent, roughly annual event, until about ten years ago–after moving to rural Illinois, when suddenly, surprisingly, the DWBs stopped occurring. (Although it could also be just because I drove less…) It seemed all good until my 1st DWB in my rural Illinois county brought all the helpless, annoyed, frustrated feelings back.

Frustration like recalling a surprising WWB (walking while black/brown) offense in Chicago, as I was walking to the subway before being accosted and thrown onto a police car hood by a police officer purportedly looking for someone who “fit my description.” That insult compounded by the insult of him patting me down and demanding to see what was in my hoodie jacket pocket…a book.

So I suppose today was a good day, since I never actually got pulled over…as the cop eventually turned down a side street. (But my fantasy of my choosing to following him at the same distance went unaddressed, as I continued instead on my travels homeward…)

So today was a good day. A day when I could continue to imagine that life in my rural cocoon means that I might get individual treatment instead of that of a member of a subjugated group. Although the fear I felt by being followed—and maybe about to be stopped again…for no reason…well, no good reason anyway—jumped my heart rate as usual.

(A few days earlier, I saw the movie Hidden Figures, going with white friends who, as white folks, I assume didn’t share my visceral reaction when the African-American characters in the early part of the movie (set in the early 60s) felt significant apprehension when their broken down car was approached by a policeman. So maybe today was a good day for me, not being the early 60s and all.)

Continuing homeward, I stopped to get some gas. My pump was adjacent to that of a middle-aged white lady in a mid-luxury SUV. She made sure to lock her car twice when she went into the store briefly to pay. So maybe it wasn’t as good a day as I’d like.

(Then I looked across the street at a Subway store where, a month prior, a different middle-aged white lady had paid for my sub for no bad reason. That was a good day.)

As I drove away from the gas station, sun shining, the satellite radio flipped through a Kenny Chesney “No Shoes Radio” station; the white country singer playing a nice reggae-tinged song with one of Bob Marley sons. I continued homeward, looking forward to a summer with kids of varied backgrounds coming together at camp and becoming friends. Maybe it was a good day after all.


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Random Act of Kindness Helping Feel that Healing is Possible

An open letter to the white lady at Subway…

You don’t know how you made me smile. When I went to check out and pay for my sandwich, the cashier informed me that it had been taken care of by the lady who had just left the store. Involved in my order, I didn’t really take note of you, beyond seeing that you were maybe 60-ish year’s old and had smile lines on your face.

When the cashier told me my sandwich was free, and why—I turned to the store entrance and you were gone. You don’t know how your simple kind gesture helped to restore just a little bit of faith in the majority of a country that lately has not given me much faith.

You don’t know how you have helped me keep hope alive.

You don’t know how, over the past few weeks, I’ve struggled looking at unknown white people and thinking the worst.

You don’t know how your random act of kindness—a gift of a sandwich to an unknown brown man behind you in line helps me think that we can get through this—that our kids of all backgrounds will move beyond hate and prejudice and self-serving mindsets and get to a place of cultural competence, where all are welcomed.

Thanks for more than a sandwich.


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We’re in this Together

If you’re reading this, you’re likely disappointed that events of recent months have revealed apparently deep societal fissures.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely feeling uncertainty and fear about this country’s future. Even as the holiday season approaches, you may be wondering what new bad tidings the new year may bring.

If you’re reading this, you might be asking yourself, “How can I make my part of the world a better place? How can I address looming challenges that seem much larger than they did only a few months ago (when they still loomed, but not as ominously…)?”

If you’re reading this, you might wonder: “How can I help facilitate more equity, fairness, inclusion, and justice?” You might do this even while bearing witness to increasing real and threatened attacks on loved ones, friends, acquaintances, or others who don’t match the look of those who were powerful when America was “great”. You might do this because you or your friends or acquaintances or your principles or your worldview don’t represent whatever the baseball cap refers to when proclaiming to “make America great again.”

At Kupugani, for over 10 years, we have pursued the dream-become-reality that children of different backgrounds can come together, play together, learn together (and from each other), work together, have fun together, and thrive together. We choose to believe that people are ultimately good and want a world where that can happen. Today, we look at a socio-political climate where that goal is even more important. Now more than ever, we need to see each other not as divided by religion, ethnicity, color, politics, or whatever, but united in our intention to bring people together.

We need your help to continue to do this. If you think that we have done and continue to make a difference, tell your friends and acquaintances; refer others who think that the goal of different people coming together is important. If you’d like to help camp continue as a world changer, let a buddy know that we are here.

As we approach this holiday season, let’s treat it as a time for celebration of the best of human nature, and reflect on our privileges. Let’s recommit to only our best intentions and be generous to those with less—whether it’s less privilege, resources, ability to thrive in a society top-heavy in its distribution of finances or justice. Let’s not give up even when it feels hard. Let’s try even harder to do what’s right, what’s fair, what’s equitable. Our goal need not necessarily be equality, but we do need to continue to pursue what’s just.

Wishing you continued safety, happiness, and health during this holiday season.

-Your friends at Camp Kupugani


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We Need to Know This

We Need to Know This

(by Tirien Angela Steinbach, exec. director of the East Bay Community Law Center, Berkeley, CA)

We got here because of fear and hate and anger – powerful motivators. They drive our economy, our media, our consumption culture, and our laws.

We need to know this.

We got here because of the continued legacy of bigotry motivated by power – real and imagined, held and craved. When people have privilege – even a thin thread of it – equity feels like oppression, and people will clutch that thread so tight even as it cuts them to the bone.

We need to know this.

We got here because we have been fed on a steady diet of spectacle and cynicism and braggadocious bigoted bullies and fear-mongering megalomaniacs and “reality” TV that has created a Grand Canyon-sized cultural divide in our country.

We need to know this.

We got here because we have stripped resources from public education, housing, healthcare, jobs, economic opportunities and forsaken sane and compassionate immigration policies – all of which are required to build a just society.

We need to know this.

We got here because our legal and political systems were designed to protect the status quo and to defend the financial interests of the 1%. Even as we fight to “level the playing field” and increase “access to justice,” we need to recognize the fundamental fact that in our history thus far, law and politics have more often been a barrier or bludgeon than a bridge for most people, especially those pushed to our margins.

We need to know this.

I am still reeling – not from shock but from the unfiltered, raw and naked reality of what we have wrought as a nation. I have not cried because I am too busy trying to breath, too close to drowning in the deep sea of racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and fear and hate and anger that has led to this day. I can’t yet wrap my brain around what this will mean – for the Supreme Court, for the government, for the country, for our communities, for our families. I can’t yet take comfort in some of the local and statewide victories – the reminders that progress is possible.

We need to know this too, but I am not there yet.

I am not planning my exodus to Canada or Costa Rica. I am not curled up in fetal position under my comforter even though that is where I want to be right now. I am at work with the remarkable people of the East Bay Community Law Center, because we have work to do. We ALL have work to do. And the work will be harder and scarier and more urgent and necessary than ever.

We need to know this.

We need to fight for people and communities and still work to change lives and laws. We need to call out cultural and racial and economic inequality ALL THE TIME. We need to run towards the discomfort that is necessary for meaningful and lasting change and growth – the discomfort of recognizing the ways we are complacent or unwilling to make space for true inclusion and equity. We need to ask ourselves each day, “what am I doing today to create a more just and compassionate community?” (And, as important, “what am I NOT doing – because of apathy that preserves existing hierarchies that benefit me and prevent true progress?”) We need to be creative and messy and hopeful and committed and focused and inspired as we work to change the dynamics of power and privilege in our society.

We need to know this.

We need to align our own intentions and our impacts, and demand this of our institutions. We need to love and support each other and treat people with dignity and respect. We need to be brave in the face of fear and compassionate in the face of anger, including our own. I don’t know how we will do this, but I think that we are prepared for the work ahead… And I still believe that it starts with love – love that looks like justice.

We need to know this.


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Kids Lives Matter

Here’s a link to a recent op-ed piece in the St. Kids Lives MatterLouis Post-Dispatch by camp director Kevin Gordon detailing the importance of interaction among children of different backgrounds: Kids Lives Matter


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9 Ways to Maximize Development of Social Awareness

At our girls-only and boys-only summer camps in the Midwest, we model and emphasize ways for our campers to maximize the development of social awareness. A recent article by Katie Duper has some great ideas on how to raise a child to be socially aware. Bullets below, with the whole article at this link.

Addresdownloads privilege — and do it early.

  • Talk to your child about how these differences often make things more difficult for certain groups of people, and continue to talk about privilege when real-life examples come up.

Make sure your child has diverse choices when it comes to toys, books and TV.

  • Make sure the things your child is playing with and learning from represent a spectrum of identities. If your child engages with materials that don’t promote the values you stand behind, take the opportunity to question, critique and reflect on what they represent.

Use childhood curiosity to facilitate teachable moments.

  • When a child asks a question about difference in public (e.g., “Why is that person in a wheelchair?”), instead of shushing them in an attempt to diffuse the situation (and perhaps leave the other person feeling as if you’re unwilling to teach your child about diversity), address your child’s curiosity in a sensitive way, in the moment. Not only does this help your child learn, but it also shows that you are a strong ally to other communities, willing to teach and advocate even in awkward situations. 

Let your child have a voice — and listen.

  • Don’t let the power differential between parent and child get in the way of listening and learning about your child’s perspective.

Talk to your kids about current events in an approachable way.

  • When current events highlight injustice, turn it into an open, honest conversation. It’s helpful to know what your child is feeling and to ease concerns while still highlighting the issue at hand.

Fill in the gaps left by what isn’t taught in schools.

  • Pay attention to what your child is learning — and not learning — in school. Make time for lessons about heroes of color, LGBT activists and indigenous populations — and that’s just a start.

Engage in service and volunteerism.

  • See which organizations in your area need extra love, but have your child pick what to do. Make your child aware of why the inequalities you’re addressing exist, in order to promote actual social understanding.

When you see something, say something.

  • When you notice something, acknowledge it and explain why it’s a problem. Model the values you want your child to embody.

If you don’t know what to say, own up to it.

  • It teaches the valuable lesson that it’s okay not to know everything, while also stressing the importance of educating yourself.


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Kupugani touches on all the core values and enrichment that we hope to instill in our [child]. My husband and I absolutely love Camp Kupugani. Our [child] gained immensely from camp.

Lisa G.

Everyone…was just so, so personable, kind, and the kind of person I want
my [child] looking up to and spending time with.

Laura V.

[My daughter’s] face lights up when she speaks about camp, it’s a priceless experience.

Kenya P.

I have never come in contact with such a wonderful group of people at a camp before. Everyone did an outstanding job, the camp was so organized, it was unbelievable.

Joe M.

She absolutely loves the camp, the staff, and all the friends she makes there. I consider Kupugani to be a big influence in helping her grow and expand her mind each summer.

Luci A.


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