“Anthony looks forward to going to Pine Tree Camp every year. It’s the highlight of his summer,” said his mother, Elizabeth. “It makes me so happy because he gets to go away and have experiences he wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Anthony is 15 years old and first attended Pine Tree Camp as a day camper eight years ago. He’s been coming ever since.
This summer, he was one of more than 650 campers.
Ethan and Matthew are two brothers with physical and intellectual disabilities who were also among the campers. In school, Matthew is the only one of 700 students to be in a wheelchair. That’s not so at Pine Tree Camp. At camp he has contact with true peers with similar physical needs.
“It gives you a different perspective when you are surrounded by people who are dealing with the same things you do,” said his mother Alexandra. “That has real emotional value. He’s not the odd man out. They are not modifying for him. Whatever it is he’s doing, it’s already modified.”
Both boys require her full time assistance and when they go to Pine Tree Camp, it’s the only time she’s not responsible for their care 24/7.
“At Pine Tree Camp, there are more hands on deck than just Mom,” she said.
For second-year camper Aryia and her mother Sheila, specific food requirements are a big factor in her life.
“Everyone really understood her requirements and I could tell she was in such good hands,” Shelia said.
As soon as she visited camp, Sheila could tell it was a place she wanted Aryia to go. “It’s a lovely, beautiful and loving environment.”
Aryia loves to act and perform so drama was a real highlight for her this summer.
“She just loves it all,” she said. “She’s happy there. And it’s also a nice break for me. To have something like Pine Tree Camp is amazing.”
This was the first summer campers like Anthony, Ethan, Matthew and Aryia experienced Pine Tree Camp’s fully renovated campus.
This massive $6.6 million multi-year project has added extensive accessibility and all facilities are now fully winterized so the Pine Tree Camp experience can be offered in every season.
This summer, camp was at full capacity with waiting lists for all sessions. According to Dawn Willard-Robinson, Pine Tree Camp’s Director, the master plan not only allowed camp to dramatically increase the number of people impacted by the camp experience, but also addressed issues related to camper care, comfort and safety.
“We have seen an increase in campers who are medically fragile,” said Willard-Robinson. “Some campers require feeding tubes and ventilators and many campers cannot regulate their own body temperature making the threat of summer not just uncomfortable but dangerous. Our new buildings have climate controls providing heat in the winter months and also keep our campers cool during the summer months.”
This upgrade has already made a world of difference.
“In prior summers when there were hot spells, campers who were most at risk had to stay home,” said Willard-Robinson. “Since the completion of the master plan, we have not had to send a camper home early due to heat or humidity.”
Pine Tree Camp’s staff constantly strives to better serve Maine children and adults with disabilities and fundraising efforts remain as strong as ever. Since opening in 1945, Pine Tree Camp has welcomed all campers regardless of their ability to pay tuition. No camper has ever been turned away and Pine Tree Camp is committed to keeping that open door policy firmly in place.
“This funding is so valuable and it all trickles down to the kids,” said Ethan and Matthew’s mother, Alexandra. “I can’t have a traditional job because, time-wise, the level of supervision and care they need is a challenge. Money is a huge issue for us and they could not go if we had to fund it ourselves. There’s no way we could do it. As much as I want my kids to have this experience, I have to prioritize things like medications, food and clothing first. We are extremely fortunate to have a scholarship for them both to attend Pine Tree Camp. Ethan talks about camp all year long. He feels comfortable there.”
For Elizabeth, there’s no other opportunity like this for her son.
“It’s a place where Anthony can go and be himself,” she said. “He is welcomed no matter what and he feels like he fits in. He loves fishing and the one-on-one trips with the guys. He’s developed a lot of friendships. This year he was crying when we left. He said ‘I just want to live here.’”