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Willowbrook Camp celebrates 25 years in Tualatin

The Willowbrook Arts Camp will hold a 25-year reunion Aug. 5

TUALATIN - Rachel Hilsen, 23, of Tualatin looked over at her mentor and co-worker Althea Pratt-Broome with a questioning look.

'Do you remember the play?' Hilsen asked, trying to recall the first Willowbrook play she performed in 16 years ago. 'It was the one where there were lots of princesses?'

Pratt-Broome laughed and shook her head. 'I make princesses by the dozen. You'd have to be more specific.'

Hilsen just smiled back. Pratt-Broome has seen hundreds of princesses, princes and other storybook characters during the last 25 years.

'I didn't realize it would ever get this big,' said the founder and director of the Willowbrook Arts Camp.

Pratt-Broome started the camp 25 years ago. She held it in the backyard of her Tualatin home. The first year she had 25 kids attend.

The camp, now held in Brown's Ferry Park, averages 400 kids each week during the summer. Directors estimate that about 1,800 kids will attend throughout the summer's six-week program.

But even as the numbers continue to grow, the focus of the camp has remained the same.

Pratt-Broome can remember when she first thought of the idea for a camp where kids were in charge.

'People said, 'You can't do that. You can't let kids make their own decisions,' but I did,' Pratt-Broome said, her eyes twinkling as her mouth spread into a grin.

Tents scattered across the park host activities from drama and dance to singing and ceramics. Counselors and college assistants work with the kids on projects like plays and performances or finishing products.

'There's an idea with the camp that kids can accomplish a lot more than other places believe kids can accomplish,' said Eli Taylor, 20, of Portland. A former camper himself, Taylor is now a college assistant working with kids in drama.

'It's still as impressive,' Taylor said about his return to the camp as an adult.

While it's common for the camp to see many of its campers return as teachers or instructors, adulthood seems to get the best of most of them.

This summer the camp will hold a 25-year reunion to help present and past campers, counselors and parents recapture that old camp feeling.

Aug 5 beginning at 2 p.m. at Brown's Ferry Park, the camp will offer a variety of performances, arts and crafts and family fun. The performances will be followed at 5 p.m. by a summer barbecue dinner. At 7 p.m., staff will perform a traditional play.

Camp organizers are hoping that the reunion will give former campers, now adults, a chance to relive their childhood.

For Hilsen, who now works in the costume department with Pratt-Broome, returning to the camp was rewarding.

She loves to see the new campers taking on the arts, and it makes her remember her time as a child at camp.

'When I was a kid,' she remembered, 'it was just like magic.'