Level Ground Initiative Continues to Provide Camp Experiences to Youngsters from Maine’s Immigrant and Refugee Communities

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Camp Bishopswood Director Mike Douglass and Level Ground camper Soleil stand at the waterfront in August 2023


Dozens of children from Maine’s immigrant and refugee communities once again enjoyed a summer at camp as part of MSC’s 2023 Level Ground Initiative, a program founded in 2018 to make tuition-free camp experiences possible for children from Maine’s immigrant and refugee communities. Camps welcomed these youngsters via their own connections to communities as well as through placement by Level Ground community partners. During summer 2023 more than 60 children benefited from tuition-free experiences at nonprofit and private camps across the state.

Camps’ commitment to Level Ground continues to grow as more camps welcome more campers, a longstanding goal of the Initiative. In all, camps contributed nearly $200,000 in tuition this summer; campers’ attendance varied from one week to a full season. Campers came from a range of cities and towns and the number of Level Ground’s community partners continue to expand. And with the hiring of Level Ground Initiative Coordinator Raine Kerhin (who also serves as executive assistant to Executive Director Lucy Norvell), hopes are high for growth in the summer 2024 season.

During the spring and summer of 2023, interim Level Ground Initiative Coordinator Kris Millard collaborated with longtime community partners Portland Community Squash and King Middle School, as well as new partners Boys and Girls Club of Southern Maine, Memorial Middle School (now South Portland Middle School), and East End Community School in Portland. Through those relationships, campers were placed at Camp Bishopswood in Hope, which has welcomed campers since Level Ground’s inception in 2018, Agassiz Village in Poland, and new camp partner Y Camp of Maine in Winthrop. A total of 43 youngsters attended these three camps via Level Ground.

Lisa Carter, executive director of Agassiz Village, wrote in an email, “In general I would say that we truly value our partnership with Maine Summer Camps and Level Ground.  That’s what Agassiz is here for, to serve the under-served so to have a partner that helps us to reach more kids in need is amazing.  We would be honored to provide summer camp experiences for as many kids as possible so keep sending them our way.”

Level Ground’s efforts and impact  are not limited to these camps, however. Many other camps across Maine welcome New Mainers and provide them with tuition-free camp experiences. Winona Camps in Bridgton hosted nine campers, as did Hidden Valley Camp in Freedom. Hidden Valley Camp, whose first Level Ground campers were placed by volunteers supporting the Initiative, now brings Level Ground campers via “word of mouth,” says Director Peter Kassen. Camp Wawenock also hosted a Level Ground camper, whose has returned for several summers after first attending Camp Bishopswood in the inaugural Level Ground summer.

The impact of the Level Ground Initiative grows as the issue of housing security of immigrant and refugee families becomes more dire. Many campers this summer resided in greater Portland hotels. Three siblings were unhoused, meaning Agassiz Village was their true home for the six weeks they were enrolled while their father attempted to secure housing. Many Level Ground campers this summer moved to Maine just within the past year. They have hurdled language barriers, adjustments to a new culture and new schools, and have often served as interpreters for their families. The opportunity to live in Maine’s natural beauty, meet friends from all over the U.S. and the world, and learn brand-new skills – as well as play the games they know well – was a challenging and exciting experience.

Camps and community partners have offered many suggestions for making the Level Ground Initiative have a broader impact and facilitate even more positive experiences for campers. Helping families become more familiar with camp generally, and the camps they will attend specifically, will support recruiting and placing more campers. For example, community partners have offered to host camp representatives and interested families for information sessions, similar to such an event at  Portland Community Squash in early 2023. By inviting parents, with the support of interpretation services, families will be better equipped to truly understand the camp experience.

The Level Ground Initiative also continues to benefit from the generosity of L.L. Bean, which last spring awarded MSC a second $25,000 grant helping to support the administration of the Initiative. The first such funds, awarded in 2022, have enabled MSC to fund the part-time Level Ground Coordinator position.

The future is bright for Level Ground and MSC is always seeking more camps to participate in the Initiative. Additionally, MSC would like to know what member camps have hosted children from Maine’s immigrant and refugee communities through other channels to provide tuition-free camp experiences.

Level Ground Committee Chair Mike Douglass sums it up perfectly: “What a great summer for Level Ground. New community partners, new camps, LG campers on staff, more and more LG youth at camps, support from LL Bean again. This was an incredibly successful summer for LG, and now the work starts to make it even better for the summer of 2024!”



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