Our History

Growth through Good Fortune, Good Sportsmanship, and Good, Hard Work.

In 1959, members of the long-standing North Sacramento Optimist Club scouted several parcels of land around the historic mining town of North Bloomfield, California, just north of Nevada City. Their intent was to establish a camp for underprivileged and handicapped children.

As late as the 1880s, when the mines and rivers were still producing, Nevada City was the third largest city in California. Mid-19th century population: 10,000. One of the richest of the gold fields near Nevada City was the Malakoff Diggins, which spawned the town of North Bloomfield to clothe, supply and house the Malakoff miners. 21st century population: Zero, with the exception of visitors to the charming, semi-restored snapshot of a mining town in its hay day.

Malakoff Diggins SHP California State Parks

In 1962, the Optimists were fortunate enough to place a $17,500 down payment on a parcel adjacent to Malakoff Diggins State Historical Park. The property’s owner, Harold Helland, had been handicapped in his youth and was understanding of the Club’s purpose in establishing the camp.

The Camp was named in honor of Optimist Ross Relles, Sr. upon his passing in 1973. By virtue of his tireless, visionary work on behalf of the underprivileged youth of the Sacramento area, this sizeable foothills tract was converted from raw wilderness acreage in 1959 to a bona fide, functional summer camp for kids some 14 years later. Main among his achievements were ideas to supplement the fees of under-funded youth groups.

Optimist Foundation for Handicapped Camping (OFHC)

It was soon recognized that even on paper, the camp project was too big for one club. So, in 1964, the Optimist Foundation for Handicapped Camping (OFHC) was incorporated. The Foundation included all of the Optimist Clubs in the Sacramento area. The OFHC board is now made up of representatives of those Clubs choosing to appoint directors.

In 1968, the mortgage on the property was paid off, largely through the proceeds of the annual Optimist North-South All-Star High School Football Game, the brainchild of Ross Relles, Sr. and executed by his fellow Sacramento-area Optimists. (The game is played in Sacramento, California, and has become the non-profit Camp’s most consistent source of funds.) The property was deeded to the new corporation, plans were drafted and funds were accumulated to actually build the camp. Updated surveys and the sale of a parcel defines today’s campsite as 228 acres with accommodations for up to 160 campers and staff.

To get there, construction on the camp was started in 1975, funded by a combination of proceeds from the football game, a periodic timber harvest on the property, and a mortgage. The camp opened for a two-week trial session in July of 1976, with one of the camper activities being to shuttle shingles up to the roofers who were still finishing the cabins. The camp has undergone continuous operation, growth and improvement ever since, with its share of ups and downs early on. Optimists continue to support the camp with annual work parties, member contributions and, of course, the All-Star football game as the main contributor.

A strong, civic-minded individual, Ross Relles was an active member in an array of organizations, including the YMCA, American Legion, Elks, Moose, Eagles, Native Sons of Italy and, of course, the Sacramento Optimist Club, of which Ross served as president, and Optimist International, of which he served as lieutenant governor. Appreciation of his dedication to the Optimist All-Star Football Game and his great contribution to the success of the Optimist Camp for Handicapped Children led to the renaming of the facility to Camp Ross Relles.