With hopes of spring on folks’ minds, it’s actually time to start thinking about summer plans. For many families, those plans include camp. It may be a day camp or overnight camp, traditional or specialized; the state boasts nearly 200 summer camps. For parents and kids looking for different camp options, the Maine Summer Camps’ 8th annual camp fair will provide a fine opportunity.
The fair, which will feature more than 70 camps, will be held on Sunday, March 19, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the East End Community School, 195 North Street, in Portland. Many of the camps in attendance offer financial assistance to eligible families.
Ron Hall, executive director of Maine Summer Camps, a membership organization serving more than 120 Maine camps, says the fair will offer a venue for families to explore summer opportunities for kids aged five to 18. There will be a broad range of camp offerings represented, from traditional camps to those meeting more specific summer goals – sports, sailing, arts, horseback riding, sea kayaking, even circus and magic! Portland Sea Dogs’ Slugger will be on hand from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., and for those who arrive hungry, Gustos food truck will be serving up its famous fare.
Hall says that the fair may offer families exploring camp options their only opportunity to meet camp directors and staff face-to-face. Camp administrators agree: a camp fair gives families personal interaction and a first-rate opportunity to learn about options for kids’ summer activities.
Emily Chaleff is director of Camp Alsing, which was recently founded by her and two other Portland area professionals – a camp director and a physician – to offer a camp experience for children with high-functioning autism, Asperger’s, and other social communication challenges. The co-ed camp will offer one two-week session for kids aged 9-16 and will be held at Pine Tree Camp, in Rome. It will be the sole occupant of the camp property during the session.
Chaleff says that by attending the camp fair, Camp Alsing personnel will be able to share its mission with potential campers, and “also spread the word about the camp” to those in the camp community. Chaleff says camps are often looking to refer youngsters for whom they might not offer a good fit.
“We can share our program with families and other camps,” Chaleff says. “We’re getting a tremendous response for families in Maine.”
The camp is intended, above all, to be fun, Chaleff says, and it will allow campers to “be in an environment where they can be who they are.”
“The things that make them different elsewhere, we can celebrate, and celebrate with them,” she says. At the same time, campers will be able to make social connections and learn social communication skills.” The camp will be staffed by clinicians, teachers and practitioners with applicable backgrounds, as well as graduate students pursuing degrees in the field.
“As far as we know, there isn’t another overnight program like this in Maine,” Chaleff says. “We’re very excited to be at the fair.”
Another representative at the camp fair will be the Girls Scout of Maine, which operates a range of camps in Maine, including residential camps in both southern Maine and at the foot of Mt. Katahdin. Mary Ellen Deschenes, chief of outdoor operations for the organization, says the camp fair “is one of the better ones,” and offers the chance to highlight opportunities for girls who want to attend camp and who might also be interested in girl scouting.
“It’s always an advantage of a camp fair – speaking to a family and parents counts for a lot,” Deschenes says. “It’s much better than a brochure.”
Deschenes says that a “dynamic and interactive staff person goes a long way” in providing families with “a good feeling” about what camps can offer.
The fair will “make camp seem much more personal,” says Friends Camp Director Anna Hopkins. “It’s really different to be able to meet with a family. It allows back and forth rather than us just transmitting information” to families, says Hopkins. Friends Camp, located in South China, hosts between 80 and 100 campers per session and seeks to foster Quaker values of community, equality, integrity, peace and simplicity.
Camp directors in Maine like to say that there is a Maine camp for every child. On March 19, families in southern Maine can explore just how true that is.