A key part of the Gaffney Foundation program is to send our students to a wilderness camp for a week in the summer. This past summer, we sent the Gaffney students to Camp Chewonki in Maine. Since most of the Gaffney kids live in an urban environment and have never even walked in the woods, the camp experience is very demanding.
After loading the students into a van in Stamford, we proceeded north on I-95 and continued onto the Massachusetts Turnpike. They were out of their comfort zone. As far as they were concerned, we had left civilization. When we drove past Portland, Maine, and the road turned into a two-lane highway, we saw the rich dense marsh on one side and the rugged coastline or an occasional estuary on the other: truly a foreign land.
Camp Chewonki occupies forty acres on a peninsula and three separate islands; it is located just south of Arcadia National Park. The Camp has a working farm and our students prepare all their own food at the campsite which is isolated from the other Camp Chewonki activities. Our students sleep in tents, have campfires under the stars and enjoy time away from the problems they live with at home. For many of them, this is the first time that they have been away from their family. Taking them into the wilderness is a challenge that builds their self-confidence and prepares them to leave home and go away to college.
Shortly after they arrived at camp, counselors Oliva and Todd introduced the Gaffney kids to the waterfront where they had a crash course in tidal changes and the basics of canoeing. Every day the Gaffney kids rotated their responsibilities such as cleaning the campsite, preparing the canoes, and planning the meals. Another responsibility is being the “group leader.” The leader plans where they will canoe that day. On these outings, the group is challenged by the changing currents, the unpredictable weather and of course, misquotes. They learn quickly that survival means working together, and they develop a trust and respect for each-other’s skills that will last forever.