At Camp Harbor View, Kids Get A Chance To Be Kids

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Children climbing the wall at Camp Harborview (Delores Handy/WBUR)
Children climbing the wall at Camp Harborview (Delores Handy/WBUR)

Youth violence prevention advocates say ages 11 to 14 are critical, a time when life-altering decisions are made. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino calls them “tweenies” — too old for programs at city community centers, too young for the city’s summer jobs for teens programs.

One Boston Harbor camp has been a safe, nurturing haven for 1,000 of these “tweenies” this summer.

From Boston To The Harbor

At not yet 8 a.m., the kids gather outside the Boys & Girls Club on Talbot Avenue at Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester.

Eleven-year-old Raven Heath was dropped off by her mom, Acia Adams Heath, who said it’s important to keep Raven busy.

“One, she’s 11. Two, I work,” Adams Heath said. “And three, I think it’s just good to keep kids active and stuff like that, especially when you see a lot of things in the news about childhood obesity and issues like that, and you know, kids who are not busy enough getting into things they shouldn’t do.”

Claudia Smith-Reid dropped off her 11-year-old twins, Kyle and Kayla.

“I think a busy child is a court-less child,” Smith-Reid said. “They’re not in a courtroom for anything that they’ve done. You keep them busy. You keep them involved.”

On most days, three buses carrying kids between the ages of 11 and 14 leave from the Talbot Avenue Boys & Girls Club. More buses will travel from other locations in Dorchester, as well as from other parts of the city, including Roxbury, Mattapan and Hyde Park.

Camp Harbor View is on the Harbor’s Long Island. You have to travel a winding narrow road past Marina Bay, then cross a nearly mile-long bridge and stop at check points. But finally, you’re there.

Children from the camp on a tightrope course (Delores Handy/WBUR)

Another Day At Camp Harbor View

The first order of business is breakfast, and then the day begins.

“Good morning, Camp Harbor View,” said the camp’s leader, Cara Gould, starting off with what is part of a daily ritual.

Gould has been executive director at Camp Harbor View since its founding five years ago.

“We have tennis courts, basketball courts, baseball fields, football fields, two soccer fields, a beach,” Gould said. And there’s art and music.

But many, like Anthony Cerra, an eighth-grader from South Boston, like to be out on the water.

“My favorite thing to do here is sailing, especially when it’s windy out like this, ’cause the boat is basically on its side when you’re going,” Anthony said.

And there’s even more, like the ropes courses — tightropes 49 feet up in the air for walking — and walls up to 45 feet tall for climbing.

There are classrooms for an academic program the camp calls “Knowledge is Power.”

“‘Knowledge is Power’ is how we kind of sneak in education,” Gould said. “It’s how we make sure that the kids’ brains are still active while they’re out here, so we do a lot of science-based experiments — some robotics things.”

This week, there is a pilot project focused on introducing kids to medical careers. On the very first day, they had a bone lab. Eleven-year-old Alyssa Allen, also from Dorchester, took part. She wants to be a doctor. She said being at the camp makes her feel special.

“We were figuring out what bones belonged where. And I think it’s a wonderful opportunity because we’re having fun but also learning,” Alyssa said.

Also on the first day: a long workout with fitness guru Brandy, owner of Body by Brandy.

Quishawn Gilliame learns how to walk on a tightrope. (Delores Handy/WBUR)

There’s so much to do that midway through the day, Dougie Fitts, a tall, lanky 14-year-old from Dorchester, crashed on a bench. He was tired, but appreciated the opportunity.

“It’s good, it’s fun,” Dougie said. “It takes you out of the city. I think they should do this for all the other kids in the city, that’s on the streets.”

He paused, thinking.

“There’s a lot that happens in my neighborhood,” Dougie said. “It’s stuff my mother doesn’t want me to be around. I was just thinking about the stuff that was happening, like I just see crackheads and drug dealers and a lot of gangs and stuff. I think this is real good for kids.”

An Investment In The Future

The camp is all part of the city’s violence prevention program.

“Every nickel has been donated, we only charge the families $5,” Gould said. “It’s more of a processing fee and a token of investment on their part.”

The payoff comes in the behavior.

“I have never had a weapon in five years,” Gould said. “We’ve never had a drug here in five years. We found two lighters in five years and I’m guessing they might have been staff’s.”

The camp began as a partnership between Menino and local businessman Jack Connors. Menino got the city to donate the land, and Connors has raised the money to build and operate the camp — $32 million so far.

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