Camp Berwick: A Summer of Work, A Summer of Growth

Each summer, on a 750-acre island two miles off the coast of Milbridge, as many as 50 boys beginning at age 12 live in community to work together for a common goal. Founded nearly 70 years ago, Camp Berwick is a program of the Berwick Boys Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Massachusetts whose goal is to “help teenage boys develop physically, mentally, and morally through experience in living and working with their peers.” The program philosophy promotes hard work, independence in conjunction with collaboration, and teaching specific practical skills all designed to build “responsible, determined and socially minded, contributing adults.”

David Hough, who for many years served as camp director, is quick to point out that the six-week session each summer is not a traditional camp.

“It’s not summer camp per se,” Hough says.  “We are definitely more an experiential program. A lot of it has to do with hard work.”

It is hard work. During the day, Monday through Friday, for each of the six weeks, boys work on crews, charged with performing the tasks necessary to provide “what an island community needs,” Hough says. Those crews include construction, building new or repairing older buildings. It might mean the garage crew, performing electrical and other maintenance tasks. Or boat crew, working on the waterfront transporting materials from the mainland to the island and learning to maintain the camp’s fleet of Boston Whaler outboard boats.

Hough says evenings are dedicated to recreation time, while each Saturday is “Cabin Day,” where boys perform home improvement projects on the cabins in which they live. Saturday nights mean barbeques on the point overlooking the water, followed by a movie night. And on Sundays? Fun. Older boys, returning campers, host a morning-long breakfast, Hough says, where newer camps can submit breakfast orders, prepared by their older peers. Group activities on Sunday afternoons include hikes and fishing. Other recreational activities include kayaking and rowing, swimming and games. Sundays also give campers a time to just “hang out,” Hough says.

Hough, who served as camp director for the past dozen years, recently took a college teaching position in North Carolina and will only spend a few weeks at the camp this summer. But joining the campers are a large cohort of staff, including Executive Director Adam Wichern, son of the late co-founder Dr. Walter Wichern, as well as an associate director, assistant director, a registered nurse, counselors who began their time as campers, and “a lot of volunteers.”

Each year a boy returns to camp he is given more responsibility, Hough says. The foundation also funds college or trade school scholarships for boys who participate in the program, he says. Boys who receive these scholarships often return to camp in the summer as staff members.

Hough says there are many similarities between today’s camp and that founded in the late 1940s.

“There is still the spirit of trying to embrace the challenges inherent in living on an island,” he says.

The program attracts a wide variety of boys, Hough says. “We are looking for boys interested in a very different, unique experience.” The main criteria for campers are a willingness to participate and desire to be a contributing member of the community, he says.

All participating boys receive financial support to attend, Hough says. While it costs the foundation between $5,000 and $6,000 per boy each summer, families are asked to contribute $1,000.

“It’s very different,” Hough says of the summer on Dyer Island. “It’s not for everyone. It’s definitely more rustic.”

“It’s not a country club, and we don’t want to be one,” he says. “I think adults who have grown up in the program feel it is really important.”

The Berwick Boys Foundation also runs a year-round program out of its headquarters in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Each Saturday during the year boys participate in a variety of activities, including fundraisers to support the camp program. All of the efforts are driven by the foundation’s mission. And come July, on that Down East island two miles from the mainland, boys come together to live the vision of the organization’s founders: living and working together in preparation for becoming responsible and participating members of their world.

Kristine Millard

About Kristine Millard

Kristine Snow Millard is a free-lance writer from Portland and a fan of all things summer, including camp. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Hampshire, a master’s degree (communications) and a law degree from Boston University, and, most recently, earned an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. She is currently helping to edit The Art of Outdoor Living, a guidebook used for Junior Maine Guide candidates, and is a regular contributor to the Maine Summer Camps newsletter. She has also contributed to the American Camp Association New England newsletter. Kris has written regularly for Maine Women and My Generation, both publications of Current Publishing. She has written features for the Maine Sunday Telegram, and is also a free-lance grant writer. A parent, she is also deeply committed to the subject of emotional wellness, and has seen how camp can foster whole and healthy kids. She is working on a memoir about living with clinical depression, and an essay she has written on that topic is forthcoming in an anthology to be published by Talking Writing, an on-line literary magazine.