Some bloggers get invited on press junkets to Alaska, the Caribbean orAustralia.
I got an hour-long tour of Camp Mahackeno.
Hey, I’m not complaining. The gathering included an A-list of Westporters — YMCA trustees and major donors — and was capped off by a cookout at Y CEO Rob Reeves’ house. Best of all, this was a chance to revisit a piece of old Westport, a place that has in many ways changed dramatically since I was a camper there years ago. In other ways, it’s changed not at all.
David Cohen, Randee Bok and Jen Seirup took turns talking about the 71-year-old camp. They take special pride in the Special Cares program for children with physical or mental challenges. Up to a dozen youngsters per session are mainstreamed as much as possible, and enjoy a staff-camper ration of no more than 1:2.
Mahackeno is open to children entering grades 1 through 7. It’s not cheap — and even kids in the Leaders in Training (grades 8-9) and Counselor in Training (grade 10) pay — but the Y provided 120 slots this summer to families in need, through Westport and Weston’s human services departments. In addition, they fund several Fresh Air Fund campers.
Bill Gault was on the tour. Like me, he is a former camper. When we were there, the Sunny Lane drop-off area was open and dusty. Now it’s lush with trees and plants. A few decades do that to a place.
We walked through the “LOGS” area, where campers meet for special activities. There are no logs to sit on — only benches — but that’s okay. “LOGS” stands for “Lots Of Good Stuff.”
There is archery, canoeing, baseball — all the usual camp stuff. There’s also a strong outdoors program for older campers, complete with team-building exercises.
Counselors’ shirts say “Professional Role Models.” Randee and Jen place a premium on staff development. They laughed — but also cringed — when Rob described the recollections of a camper from 40 years ago. Back then, a harsh waterfront director forced campers to swim in the cold Saugatuck River. They emerged covered with leeches.
The Saugatuck is strictly for canoeing now. A large, well-guarded pool is one of the most popular spots at camp.
Mahackeno has a social conscience. During each session, campers are introduced to the Polar Bear initiative. They learn about climate change, and collect winter coats to distribute to needy families. (They briefly wear the coats, to understand how polar bears feel in July.)
The economy has taken a toll everywhere, including Mahackeno. Enrollment is down this summer. But Randee takes the long view.
“We expect kids to move on every year. We try to build independence, so they can go to sleepaway camps” — hopefully, those sponsored by other Ys. “And then we hope they’ll come back to our LIT and CIT training programs, and eventually become staff members.”
We ended our tour in the hollow down the hill from the drop-off circle. Large “Demolition” signs decorated two wooden buildings — part of the land where the Y hopes to build its new facility.
Nearby, happy campers played, ate, laughed and roughhoused. For 71 years, those things haven’t changed.