A lot more than just fun in the sun
Profiles of three Cape Cod summer camps with inspiring missions
Cape Cod is a place of beauty and of beaches, of restaurants and riches, of artistry and affluence. It is also a place of great passion, emotion, dreams, and compassion for one’s fellow man. In this article, we look at three summer camps on the Cape whose very function is to help, support, mentor, and inspire others.
Camp Mitton, located in the Lower Cape community of Brewster, is part of a South Shore-based organization called Crossroads that follows a simple mission: helping kids. Through various methods including building supportive mentoring relationships between campers and counselors, Camp Mitton’s staff aims to inspire and support young people who have gone through trauma or crisis.
A few towns to the west in Marstons Mills, campers—including children and adults with developmental disabilities—at Cranberry Sunset Farm have the chance to get a taste of what life is like on a farm by working with animals, riding horses, and tackling various chores. They also learn about gardening and nutrition, and gain a subtler education in concepts of teamwork and self-sufficiency. Ideally, when the cowbell rings for lunch—the Farm Life Program runs mornings until noon—the junior farmers will depart brimming with self-confidence, and a little green thumb knowhow.
Returning to Brewster, we find Dream Day on Cape Cod. This organization provides local families that have a child who is suffering with a chronic or life-threatening illness with a week’s respite at this Cape Cod campground. Activities such as boating, fishing, and hiking abound, and the goal is simply to allow these families the chance to spend some quality time together in a beautiful location, in the fresh air, and far from any hospital visits and treatments.
Camp Mitton’s Goal: empowering children. Brewster camp helps youngsters who have undergone crises
Tucked along the shore of Walker Pond in Brewster, Camp Mitton is a spacious campground that is part of a larger organization, Crossroads. Based in Duxbury, Crossroads’ mission is to improve how disadvantaged and under-resourced children and teenagers think about and view themselves.
“We always want to empower our young people,” says Tatiana Joyce, a development fellow for the organization and a former seasonal staff member at the camp. “We challenge our students to be stars. At camp I see our young people be the best selves they have ever been.”
By developing programing that focuses on youth empowerment via positive relationships between peers and caring adults, Crossroads seeks to inspire youth from Boston, the South Shore, and the Cape and Islands to institute positive change in their own lives.
In Brewster, Camp Mitton welcomes campers in grades one through seven who have undergone a trauma or crisis in their lives and are having difficulty coping. The camp runs three residential sessions each summer, beginning in July. The first is a two-week introductory session for campers, ages 6-13; the second and third sessions are longer. Each session focuses on building supportive and consistent relationships between campers and counselors; these connections are central to the organization’s mission of creating economically independent, socially responsible, and emotionally connected adults.
Joyce says in each session counselors have weekly one-on-one meetings with their campers, where the campers establish personal goals for themselves. These goals can range from holistic, such as being the best self the camper can be, to the tangible, cheering for a teammate three times in a game. Setting goals helps the campers “hold themselves accountable,” says Joyce, “and to measure their success.”
A special tradition during the longer sessions is the Mitton Games—or “M-Games” for short. The campers are divided into four teams for a daylong, Olympic-style competition. Throughout the day the teams compete in a variety of activities, including soccer, baseball, water sports, and a quadrathlon of running, biking, swimming, and kayaking. Points are awarded for the teams’ athletic prowess—and also for members’ demonstrated sportsmanship, teamwork, and care and support for others.
“M-Games is really a day when you see IALAC,” Joyce says, referring to the camp’s acronym for the phrase “I am loving and caring.” She adds that the M-Games are unique to Camp Mitton’s model of youth empowerment, and a camper’s earned IALAC points can represent a good measure of a camper’s progress.
Camp Mitton is located at 46 Featherbed Lane in Brewster. For more information, visit crossroadsma.org.
Hard Work, healthy food: Cranberry Sunset Farm of Marstons Mills gives young people a taste of farm life
A sign posted on a fence at Cranberry Sunset Farm may provide insight into the mission of those who work there. “There is something about the outside of a horse,” the sign states, “that is good for the inside of a man.”
Staff at the Marstons Mills farm strive to help children, including some with developmental disabilities, learn life skills by working with and riding horses. Since 2006, an integral part of the farm’s mission has been its Farm Life Program, the goal for which is to help youngsters build their self-confidence and self-sufficiency, and learn some tips on nutrition.
“Our goal is to try to maximize a child’s future,” says Leslie Ballotti, the owner and manager of the camp, who doubles as a pediatric nurse. “We set goals for each child,” Ballotti says, adding that staff members are in close communication with the campers’ parents during their stay to ensure the youngsters’ needs are best. If a child is prone to roaming, for example, he or she will be matched, one on one, with a staffer who will stay with them.
The Farm Life Program is held on weekday mornings for eight weeks throughout the summer. The campers arrive by 9 a.m. and their day begins with a quick game or nature walk. Then they get right to work on a variety of morning chores, including working in the farm’s organic vegetable garden and cranberry bog and tending to the animals.
The farm acquired the bog recently, Ballotti says, and it has provided many opportunities to help teach the campers about hard work and healthy eating.
Ballotti says the vegetable garden is also used as a way to talk with the campers about healthy eating and lifestyles. Campers pick herbs, which will be used to make sun brewed tea; they also harvest mint and lavender which can be used in the farm’s homemade ice cream. In camp, Ballotti says meals and snacks feature nutritious foods, and candies and sweets are off limits.
During the week’s many activities, an emphasis is also placed on teamwork and the campers’ social development. “We do a lot of cooperative play,” Ballotti says, referencing team scavenger hunts and carriage rides led by the farm’s miniature horses. “If they win,” she adds, “they win as a team.”
The camp session ends each day at noon, at which point the farm commences its afternoon riding program. Though separate from the Farm Life Program, providing horseback-riding opportunities is another big part of Cranberry Sunset Farm’s mission, and lessons can be taken throughout the year.
Cranberry Sunset Farm is located at 1964 Main Street in Marstons Mills. For more information, visit cranberrysunsetfarm.com.
They’re taking it one “Dream Day” at a time: Brewster camp offers vacation-respite for individuals fighting cancer and other diseases
In 1993 Tim Falvey founded Dream Day on the Sound in his native state of Connecticut. His mission was to provide a brief period of respite and relaxation for patients who were undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments, and a continuous cycle of hospital visits associated with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. A resident of Groton, Connecticut and a tugboat captain, Falvey succumbed to cancer at the age of 37 in May of 1993. To honor him, his friend Margaret Kennedy created Dream Day on Cape Cod later that year, and the camp’s mission has lived on—here on the Cape—for more than 20 years.
Dream Day on Cape Cod—which is held at Camp Nan-Ke-Rafe in Brewster—serves families who have a member that is coping with a life-threatening disease or chronic illness. “We want to serve as many families as we can,” says David Hudnall, the camp’s director. “We know there are a lot of families that need help, and we want to provide as many as we can with a free weekend getaway to the Cape.”
Since its inception, Dream Day on Cape Cod has served more than 300 families from countries around the world. “An opportunity to come here for a week is something we truly need and appreciate,” one Dream Day parent wrote to the organization. “The property is a diamond in the rough,” another parent wrote. “We come here for the camaraderie, the love, and the woods.”
Eligible candidates must be 18 years of age, or younger, and must have a severe, chronic medical condition or serious illness that significantly affects their day-to-day life. Applications are available online and are reviewed on an ongoing basis. Once accepted, the week’s stay and activities are provided free of charge, with preference given to new families and families from the Cape and Islands. Typically, 48 familes per summer enjoy a “Dream Day” on the Cape experience.
According to Hudnall, Dream Day on Cape Cod relies heavily on the generosity of private sponsors as well as grants and donations to finance its programs. The charity hosts several fundraisers each year, including a golf tournament and the Cape Cod Bass and Blue Fish Tournament; this year’s fishing tourney takes place July 8-9. Funds raised pay for the campers’ Dream Day experience and also cover costs of the camp’s equipment and facilities.
“In 2015 we raised $10,000 for adaptive kayaks,” Hudnall says. “That was great because the fishermen could connect with getting kids onto the water.” The new tandem kayaks allow visiting families to paddle and fish together in the camp’s pristine pond. This emphasis on the family experience is central to Dream Day on Cape Cod’s mission, Hudnall says.
In a given week in summer, campers arrive on Sunday and stay through Friday. During the opening campfire, new and returning families gather and begin to catch up and/or get to know one another. “We just let the program do its part,” Hudnall says. “When we do the opening campfire, we’re getting the families laughting. People naturally put up barriers when they’re in a situation where they don’t know others, so we want them to laugh together.”
A “Dream Day” day begins with breakfast at the dining hall. Campers can then take part in a variety of activities ranging from boating and fishing to arts and crafts such as candle making. The 17-acre campground also boasts a playground, hiking and walking trails, a climbing wall, a low ropes course, and a stage for performances.
During one week last summer, campers even had the chance to observe a Revolutionary War-era military encampment. Deb Blake, who works as Dream Day on Cape Cod’s cook, is also a member of the Yarmouth Minutemen, a local colonial reenactment group, and helped organize the gathering. “The Minutemen set up a typical camp of the period,” Hudnall recalls. “They brought in clothes—even a cannon. They fired their muskets off, and they had the kids doing war drills. It was so much fun. We cooked food over the fire. That was really cool.”
Hudnall says family members often develop strong bonds with each other and with the camp’s staff during the week’s stay, and that’s a powerful thing to see and experience. “They become great friends,” Hudnall says. “By Friday morning when everyone is leaving, we have a big whiteboard set up. The campers write down their address, their name, phone numbers, and emails. They are taking pictures of the whole board.”
Dream Day on Cape Cod’s campground is located at 165 Nan-Ke-Rafe Path in Brewster. For more information, visit dreamdayoncapecod.org.
Wes Chaput is a teacher at Tabor Academy in Marion.