STONEHAM – As the sun stood over a the tranquil waters of Trout Pond, where counselors led groups of campers from Camp Susan Curtis in various activities, director Patrick Carson pointed out several of the leaders.

The selected counselors, making up most of those present at the pond, were all planning to go into educational fields.

“A large percentage become teachers,” said Carson.

He estimated that of the camp’s 45 counselors, at least half are striving to work in an educational field, while the remainder hope to go into social work or are high school students who have not yet chosen a career path.

One of the counselors Carson pointed out, Monica Moreno, 17, of Paris, was helping to oversee free swim. Another, Steve Cummings, 21, of Norway, worked with a group of campers examining wildlife in a marshy area on the pond’s shore.

Moreno has spent her summers at the camp since she was 8, first as a camper and then as a leader. Cummings got an application to work as a junior counselor at the camp from his best friend’s mother, the guidance counselor at Martel School in Lewiston. It is Moreno’s third year as a counselor and Cummings’ fifth.

“This would be the place where I would find whether I wanted to work with children,” said Cummings, who began work as a boys’ head counselor this year. “You work with some of the toughest kids here.”

Camp Susan Curtis provides tuition-free camping for Maine’s economically underprivileged children, and is in the midst of its final session of the summer. Cummings says that some of the children come from difficult backgrounds and suffer low self-esteem, but that they always show strong potential.

“Those are the kids who are most willing to achieve their goals,” he said. “It definitely carries on into the school year.”

Cummings is enterimg his senior year at the University of Maine in Farmington, where he is an elementary education major. He hopes to teach at the Guy E. Rowe School in Norway or the Burchard A. Dunn School in New Gloucester.

“He is such a grounded individual who cares about so much more than just himself,” said Carson.

Moreno credited the camp with helping her grow as a person. She will be going into her senior year at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, and plans to go on to college and a career in social work.

“I guess it brought out the leadership skills in me,” she said.

Moreno recalls being shy when she first started attending the camp. She said she had been suffering from low self-confidence and bullying. After her time at the camp, she found that she was able to address the problems. She made more friends and felt better about herself, and continued to do so after the summer had ended.

“I actually started participating and not just sitting in the back, hoping the teacher wouldn’t call on me,” she said.

Moreno says she is not alone in the effect the camp has had on her.

“If they come here for two weeks, they can actually be themselves,” she said of the campers. “I think a lot of them bring that confidence home with them.”

Moreno realized that she wanted to be a counselor while she was still a camper. She became a leader-in-training for two years, then a counselor-in-training for a year, and finally a junior counselor before beginning work as a counselor.

Carson said he saw Moreno go from a quiet camper to a mentor for the attendees.

“When she did our leadership program, she really stood out,” he said.

“She’s grown up a lot from a camper to now,” said Jen Ireland, the co-counselor in Moreno’s bunk. Ireland works as a teacher during the year, and will be taking a new job at a Virginia school shortly after the final camp session ends.

Both Moreno and Cummings say their experiences at the camp have helped them on their career paths. Cummings said the camp confirmed his decision to be a teacher, taught him to bring fun into the classroom, and will help him look for the same things in students as he would in campers. Moreno said her work has taught her how to interact with different personalities.

“You have to be there for everyone,” said Cummings. “And it gets really hard, but in the end, it’s totally worth it.”

Of course, it’s not all hard work at the camp.

“I get to be a goofball,” said Cummings. “I get to be a kid.”

Carson said Cummings is guaranteed to lead the campers in at least one song per day. He has earned the nickname “Scuba Steve,” though the campers usually just call (or chant) “Scuba.” After a particularly dramatic slide in a kickball game, he briefly received a new one: Bloody Knee.

And the end of a camp session doesn’t necessarily mean a stop to helping the campers.

“I keep in touch with a lot of kids over the school year,” said Moreno.

Cummings said he works as a substitute teacher during the year, and children who have attended the camp will often recognize him.

“No matter where you go, you’ll see someone from camp, and they’ll know who you are,” he said.

“I can’t go to the grocery store in Oxford without seeing four or five kids,” said Carson. He said the counselors also keep in touch with campers through weekend reunions, written letters and Christmas cards.

The camp, founded in 1974, is sponsored by donations and the Susan L. Curtis Foundation. The foundation was created in 1971 in honor of the daughter of Gov. Kenneth M. Curtis and Pauline B. Curtis, whose daughter died of cystic fibrosis. Today, the foundation seeks to overcome the effects of poverty.

Carson says 142 children between the ages of 8 and 15 are attending the last of the summer’s four sessions.

Recently, the camp opened the Camp Susan Curtis Arts Education Center on Kezar Lake in Lovell. The center offers five two-week sessions for at-risk teens interested in fine and performing arts.

In addition, the University of Maine Foundation has set aside a scholarship program for Maine youths who have attended the camp and gone on to become counselors.


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