RAYMOND — “If we can, should we bring back the dinosaurs?”
That was an ice-breaker question posed to a few campers during lunch on the first day of Camp Agawam’s Maine Idea program, a weeklong free experience for about 100 Maine boys who may not otherwise have a chance to go to summer camp.
None of the small group of campers polled thought it would be a good idea to reintroduce the giant reptiles, with one astutely pointing to the results in the Jurassic Park movies.
The entire group, however, mostly agreed that Maine Idea is, well, a good idea. With the exception of one young man who said his parents made him go, most of the boys were excited to spend time at the camp on Crescent Lake in Raymond.
“This week is a reward,” said Camp Agawam Director and “Chief” Erik Calhoun to the campers at the beginning of this year’s Maine Idea program on Saturday, June 17. “It happens because you guys deserve it.”
Since 1971, the summer camp has offered the week of free camp to Maine boys ages 9-15 who have been recommended to the program. The camp fields suggestions about deserving youngsters from a network of teachers, principals, guidance councilors, faith leaders and other youth group directors and aims to include about 105-110 campers each year.
The boys come from right there in Raymond, other Lakes Region towns, the Portland and Lewiston areas and elsewhere. And while the week is jam-packed with fun activities like swimming, sailing, paddle boarding, basketball, tennis, volleyball and much more – it’s a bit more than just fun and games.
Mirroring the seven-week full camp program that gets underway afterwards, Maine Idea seeks to give the campers personal guidance, build confidence and develop new skills. Mixed into all the fun is a structure and emphasis on personal responsibility, including a cleaning competition among the 22 cabins at the camp.
Many of the counselors and volunteers started out as campers.
Louis Geller of Raymond spent about six or seven years in the Maine Idea program before becoming a junior counselor. The 17-year-old recent graduate of Windham High School, says that his time at the camp has helped him come out of his shell a bit.
“I wasn’t really an outgoing person,” Geller explained, saying that camp allowed him to forge bonds that he hadn’t been able to in school. The experience has allowed him to “bring enjoyment to other people, show them my personalities and adventures I’ve had.”
Counselor Jacob Morse, 20, of Lovell, is another former camper who keeps coming back for more. Morse started as a Maine Idea camper when he was 7.
Morse said that it’s “the community aspect of camp” that brings him back each year. “It’s the classical camaraderie,” he said, also noting that limited access to news and technology allows both campers and counselors to unplug and focus on the experience at hand.
“It’s a good escape,” added Bosco Lee, 36, a physician and former full-time counselor who is originally from the United Kingdom, lives in Australia, and travels thousands of miles each year to volunteer for a week during Maine Idea.
“Probably every counselor you would talk to here would say that Maine Idea is one of the best weeks of the summer, because the boys are amazing all the time, and they just lend something different,” Morse continued.
Morse is know at camp as “Corp.” Each of the staff members have titles – such as “Admiral” or “Sarge” – that the Chief chooses for them. The title system, like most things at Agawam, can be traced back to former camp director Dave Mason, who owned and ran the camp for years with his wife Peg before turning it over to the Agawam Council in 1985.
In an interview this spring about his 100th birthday, Mason explained that his idea for Maine Idea came from a program that Helen Herz Cohen had started at Camp Walden in Denmark, where disadvantaged girls from around New England were offered a free camp experience. Mason’s take for Camp Agawam was to offer it specifically for campers from Maine.
Assistant Director Karen Malm, known as “Mander,” said that the Maine Idea program costs about $1,000 per camper. The camp raises funds for the program through donations from alumni, parents and other friends of the camp. The camp also offers some “camperships” to help families afford the seven-week camp program, which costs $9,500.
Perhaps one of the most important part of any camp is the food. And at Agawam, Bruce Bartlett of Otisfield runs the kitchen. He too says that the Maine Idea week is particularly fun.
“I really enjoy this week,” Bartlett said. “I think these kids appreciate it, I really do. That’s my personal opinion. They may appreciate it a little bit more than the other group.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Campers and counselors attend a water safety meeting on the first day of the Maine Idea program at Camp Agawam on Saturday, June 17.
Lunch time during the first day of Maine Idea at Camp Agawam.
Camp Agawam Director Erik Calhoun addressed campers during day one of the Maine Idea program.