It’s hard to say whether Camp Widjiwagan had a greater impact on Melissa Muraira’s kids or whether her kids had a greater impact on Camp Widjiwagan.

Over the past three summers, Widji’s overnight camp had grown to capacity, and Executive Director Jeff Merhige had been seeking donors for a brand new overnight camp facility to serve more campers.

It just so happens that Muraira’s children were among some of the overnight campers attending sell out weeks, and they couldn’t contain their excitement when telling their mom’s employer Dottie Frist all about their experience. Frist says the Murairas are like family to her, and when the kids told her about what camp meant to them, she was eager to learn more.

“Melissa’s children had talked to Dottie Frist about the impact of camp,” Merhige says. And when Merhige talked to Frist, it was easy for her to see how her support could change lives.

On Wednesday, Widji opened the new outdoor space—named Tortuga Village after the box turtles that call camp home.

Made possible in large part by the Frist Foundation, Dottie Frist and a grant from YMCA of the USA, Tortuga Village comprises six new yurt-style cabins and the Tortuga Lodge, a multipurpose facility for programming and dining.

Altogether, Tortuga Village will allow Camp Widjiwagan to accommodate 72 more overnight campers a week—up to 720 children each summer.

Merhige says that in addition to increasing the capacity of current programming, Tortuga Village will allow Widji to expand its program offerings.

“By diversifying the programs, we can meet all the different needs of kids, groups and families,” Merhige says.


And that means more kids like the Murairas can spend their summers running, playing, learning and exploring in a safe and fun space.


“I wish I could be part of it and be a child again myself,” Frist says.

When summer camp is not in session, the new space will host family camps and be available to rent for meetings and events.

Muraira says she plans on coming with her children and Frist to the September family camp, though her children might not want to leave.

“My kids cannot wait,” she says. “They want to live here.”

Tortuga Village is the first part of an ongoing expansion of the camp’s facilities. To learn how you can get involved, visit