“I don’t want to do something I can do anywhere. I want to do something I can’t do anywhere else.”
Our assistant camp director, Mary Schafhauser, couldn’t agree more. “It’s the best experience I’ve ever had. Every day, I get to help someone experience something new. Every day, someone does something incredible they’d never tried before. That knocks my socks off.”
Helping Maine kids and adults with disabilities have experiences they would otherwise not be able to have is what makes Pine Tree Camp so unique. Counselors and program staff seamlessly integrate hundreds of adaptations to traditional camp activities to ensure all campers can fully participate. From providing a larger ball for soccer, to giving verbal descriptions of activities for campers who are visually impaired, to adding sound to disc golf baskets, Pine Tree Camp staff finds creative ways to ensure activities are accessible for everyone.
Mary recalled how enthusiastic a camper was about all the new things she was trying. “She kept saying ‘Oh wow! I’ve never done this!” and when she got a certificate for one of her achievements she broke down crying because she’d never received anything like that before.”
Camp director Dawn Willard-Robinson said “Our motto for the season was ‘Purpose guides you. Mission drives you. Vision is what you aspire to. Impact is what matters. And we put that motto into action and took advantage of every opportunity for campers to fully participate in whatever they were doing. For example, when we went to the overnight camping area, campers packed their own backpacks, decided what they wanted to have for food, then prepped and cooked all the food together. Not only was it a fun experience, they were building decision making, communication and teamwork skills at every step.”
Dawn remembered a girl who came to camp last year who was very shy. “She was a little girl and her suitcase was bigger than her. She was timid and unsure of herself. But when her parents came to pick her up, she said ‘I’m coming back next year.’ This summer, she was the queen of her cabin. She taught the other girls how to sign and showed them that you don’t have to talk to communicate. It was so cool to see that interaction. She gave them something they might not have ever had the opportunity to experience otherwise.”
Next summer when campers return, there will be a new archery pavilion and mini-barn to check out.
“Archery is really popular and our current shooting station will expand to include a bench, a railing to put your bow on and storage space for all the equipment,” continued Dawn. “And our new mini-barn will allow us to create stalls for our goats and expand the number of chickens we have. Campers will get the chance to clean out the stalls, take care of the animals and actively learn about growing and caring for a garden.”
Opportunities like these build confidence and independence and form the foundation for interests that can last a lifetime. The independence, friendships and confidence gained at Pine Tree Camp has a positive impact in the lives of campers and their families that extends long after summer is over.
This year, Pine Tree Camp welcomed 475 returning campers and 167 new campers ranging in age from six to 75. Campers came from every single county in Maine and some travelled from out of state to have the unique experience that only Pine Tree Camp can provide. Of those nearly 650 campers, 99% required tuition assistance, which was covered by more than $960,000 in donations, which made this Maine summer camp experience possible for hundreds of families.
Next year is the 75th anniversary of Pine Tree Camp and staff will be energized and ready to do something they can’t do anywhere else, which is transforming lives of Maine people with disabilities and discovering abilities together with every camper who comes down the hill.