MIDDLEBURY — One of the Counseling Service of Addison County’s latest fundraising efforts is on a roll — yes, literally.
On a sunny Aug. 16 morning, almost 100 CSAC backers, sponsors, employees and clients gathered at the Middlebury Recreation Park for the nonprofit’s third annual bocce tournament, an event that met organizers’ goals.
CSAC Executive Director Bob Thorn said the number of teams that raised money to sign up jumped from 11 in 2012 to 17 this year, while business sponsorship took a similar leap forward.
At least on that warm Friday, a fundraising target of $8,000 — possibly double the take from the year before — looked well within reach, Thorn said.
“Our goal was for it to grow by 25 percent every year, and that it could become a significant source of revenue for the programs that depend on this money,” he said. “We’re really happy with the jump we had this year.”
Thorn said some programs, especially for youths — he cited therapeutic horseback riding and hands-on forestry work — are not typically covered in CSAC’s funding model, which often relies on Medicaid reimbursement.
“We have some programs that we consider important programs that aren’t funded, and we have to raise money for every year,” Thorn said.
Yet those same programs are often far more effective in reaching young people, he said, than those for which CSAC can send bills.
“You can have someone come in and do office-based therapy, and you can bill for that, and it covers your costs,” Thorn said. “But for a lot of young people and kids, that is not a modality that is hugely productive, to come into an office and sit with an adult for an hour. So we’ve created a lot of alternative programs.”
And that eventually led CSAC to this alternative form of fundraising. Bocce (BOTCH-ee) is a bowling game played on 90-foot grass courts. A small ball is tossed by one of two teams, who then take turns throwing four larger balls each, trying to land the nearest to the smaller ball.
Thorn believes bocce, which can be highly complex and strategic at top levels, also offers novices the chance to compete right away because it does not require specialized skills — such as golf, for example.
“A lot of organizations do golf tournaments,” he said. “And you go to a golf tournament and it seems like a thin slice of the population that participates. So we were thinking about something that was really community inclusive, that anybody could participate in.”
On Friday, that meant CSAC clients, CSAC sponsors and community members all competing and interacting on eight courts — exactly what CSAC hopes to see on a regular basis.
“We have business people. We have clients and consumers,” Thorn said. “From what we know about reducing stigma and creating inclusion in the community, the best thing you can do to reduce that is to create events with a mix of people who are having a positive experience. So there are some ulterior motives here in terms of our field and trying to integrate people into our communities and at the same time try to do some education. This actually started more as community education than as a fundraising activity.”
When pressed, Thorn confessed to being the source of the bocce idea.
“For years and years I’ve vacationed in Maine, in an area of Maine that has those huge, flat, sandy low-tide areas. And we went with another family … and we would play bocce for hour after hour after hour,” Thorn said. “So I suggested it as something other than a golf tournament, but people suspected an ulterior motive, that I wanted to play bocce, and there’s some truth to that.”
Why does Thorn like it so much?
“When I suggested it, people said, “What? Bocce what?” he said. “But if you play it, it’s addictive. You can have a beverage and stand there and chat, and also do a sport.”
And Thorn — who noted that many people who walk by say they will play next year — is happy to have found a way to support CSAC while also sharing his love for bocce on a summer morning.
“Most people here have never played bocce,” Thorn said. “That’s the beauty of it. By the end of the tournament, most people feel they can play the game.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.