Although the print magazine has been out for almost a month, my feature on how three New England summer camps are expanding access to a more diverse range of kids is now online. To report on “Widening the Circle,” I spent some glorious summer days at Buck Lake Camp in northeastern Vermont, Copper Cannon Camp outside of Franconia, New Hampshire, and Camp Susan Curtis in the western foothills of Maine.
As I write in the story, overnight summer camps in New England can cost upward of $325 a day. I think that’s a conservative estimate of the high end. So that automatically disqualifies a lot of youngsters from the camp experience. But more than just the price, there’s a perception – perpetuated in movies such as The Parent Trap – that New England summer camps are the exclusive preserve for the scion’s of America’s blue-blooded families.
What I found on my visits surprised me. These camps are not just providing tuition-free (or heavily subsidized) enrollment, but are also reaching out through schools, social workers and community leaders to find kids who would most benefit from a week or two at summer camp. Actually, finding kids is not the challenge, as many of the counselors and camp directors were quick to tell me — the heart-rending difficulty is that the need continues to exceed capacity.
“This camp was created because its founders wanted to give every kid – regardless of socioeconomic status – an opportunity to be healthy, happy, well fed, and to learn important skills that connect them to nature,” says Alison Thomas, who supervises operations at Vermont’s two Green Mountain Conservation Camps. “Which is, of course, a human right. It shouldn’t be about how much money you make if you get to go play outside safely and in a healthy way.”
Former campers told me deeply moving stories about the experiences, crediting counselors and staff with turning their lives around.
“Camp absolutely helped me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in environmental work,” says Molly Estabrook, 29, who currently teaches fourth grade at an outdoors school in Colorado. She first attended Buck Lake at the age of 12 and spent the next nine years as a camper, junior counselor, and natural resources instructor, ending her tenure as the camp director at Kehoe. So it wasn’t surprising that she found her way into environmental studies and wildlife biology in college, and eventually earned a master’s degree in special education.
“I learned so much through leading and working with so many different staff members and campers, who came from all walks of life,” Estabrook says.
This assignment offered me one more amazing experience — my words are accompanied by photos taken by my 19-year-old daughter. It was deeply gratifying to go on assignment with Camille, who is an experienced camper and counselor herself. Always a professional, she captured the sights and sounds of the camps in wonderful detail and made the package so much stronger.