Camps Giving Back: Identifying and Helping to Meet Their Communities’ Needs
In small, mostly rural, communities throughout Maine, summer camps bring together thousands of youngsters for activities on land and water, in art studios and on playing fields, and through the mountainous regions and waterways of the state. But while these camps are hosting kids – helping them develop new skills and added confidence and independence – many are also serving the communities in which they reside.
Take three summer camps in Raymond, for example. When Raymond town officials last summer were on the verge of canceling their recreation program’s summer swim instruction offerings because they had no lifeguard, several camps came to the rescue.
The effort was spearheaded by Pat Smith, a former director of Camp Wawenock in Raymond, who for decades organized Raymond’s swim program. Camp Agawam, Camp Timanous, and Kingsley Pines Camp each provided volunteer lifeguards to stand watch on the shores of Crescent Lake. The program was saved, and 30 Raymond youngsters got their lessons.
“There was a real spirit of collegiality,” Smith said.
“The priority for everybody was getting the swim lessons to happen,” said Karen Malm, assistant director of Camp Agawam. And they did. Four weeks of lessons, four days a week, with more than a dozen lifeguards from three different camps all donating their time and ability and enthusiasm.
One of the lifeguards to pitch in was PJ Synk, swim instructor Pam Synk’s son and a head counselor at Camp Timanous. In 2016, PJ completed his tenth summer at Timanous, his fifth as a counselor.
“Community outreach by camps is important,” PJ said. While it’s easy to get caught up in camp schedules and programming, he said, “I think looking beyond that into the community is spectacular.”
For Camp Agawam staff, the choice to volunteer was in keeping with the camp’s mission of service, said Stephanie Hogan. Hogan, Agawam’s waterfront director for the past five years, has been affiliated with the camp since 2000. She said Agawam’s program known as “The Main Idea” – which for more than four decades has offered a week of free camp to boys for whom a camp experience would otherwise be unavailable – is another symbol of the camp’s commitment to community. So, when Hogan and a handful of other Agawam lifeguards joined the crew of volunteers for Raymond’s swim lessons, it was “seamless,” Hogan said.
“I think we all feel a sense of duty and commitment to the Raymond community,” Hogan said. “When we heard about the lifeguard situation it was a no-brainer.”
Hogan said the fact that some of the youngsters taking swim lessons had attended The Main Idea program made the volunteering even more significant.
“They got a vision of us outside the Agawam community,” she said. “When we go to Raymond Rec. we are on their turf, supporting them. It’s incredibly meaningful.”
Many other camps also use their resources and talent to give back. Camp Encore-Coda, a music camp in Sweden, has a chamber orchestra that each summer performs a benefit concert for the Lakes Environmental Association based in Bridgton. LEA monitors lakes for cleanliness and invasive species and offers environmental education throughout the region. Ellen Donohue-Saltman, who owns and directs Camp Encore-Coda with her husband, Jamie, said the 20-person orchestra includes the most advanced campers, plus faculty and staff.
Like many other Maine camps, Camp Encore-Coda also serves its community through its scholarship program for local music students, Donohue-Saltman said.
Camp Timanous, one of the lifeguard contributors, makes its basketball court available to students from the Katahdin Program, an alternative school which is part of the Windham/Raymond school system. In Sebago, Camp O-AT-KA provides a week of free camp to economically disadvantaged youngsters from several communities in Maine, but also has community service integrated into its regular programming, said Executive Director Kyle Tong. This includes an annual community service day during the summer, in which each unit at camp takes on developmentally appropriate tasks that serve the community. In addition, this summer, a leadership cabin with boys ages 14 and 15 will work with boys from Portland, who will then attend Dennen Week in August. In the fall, Camp O-AT-KA hosts an annual harvest dinner, proceeds of which go to the local fuel assistance fund, Tong said. And looking toward the world community, Camp O-AT-KA also holds an annual road race for area camps. Race entrance fees go to Global Camps Africa, an organization which offers camp, educational and family services to communities in South Africa.
In Stoneham, Camp Susan Curtis was founded to provide tuition-free camp for qualifying youngsters. But camp director Terri Mulks says the camp also provides a two-week free day camp experience to youngsters in the area regardless of whether they meet traditional tuition-assistance guidelines.
Meanwhile, Kieve-Wavus Education, Inc., based in Nobleboro, extends financial assistance far and wide both for campers – at Kieve Camp for Boys, and Wavus Camp for Girls –and for The Leadership School at Kieve, a school-year leadership institute that reaches more than 8000 students annually. Russ Williams, Kieve-Wavus’s development and communications director, said that financial assistance exceeds one million dollars annually. Indeed, the organization underwrites more than half of The Leadership School costs, Williams says.
Kieve-Wavus has both an outdoor adventure course, as well as an indoor climbing facility. Leadership training using those facilities enables youngsters to be better team-builders and better communicators, said Williams.
Collaboration, cooperation and a spirit of giving back. Camps throughout the state aren’t just teaching and nurturing kids who enroll each summer. They are also reaching into their towns as citizens mindful of their communities’ needs, and ready and willing to help meet them.