Stacey Willis Dand of Scarborough and Nick Wheeler of Keene, N.H., cut back brush Saturday on the banks of Thompson Lake in Poland. The two were part of Agassiz Village Summer Camp’s volunteer weekend. The two met when they were camp counselors together in 1997, and have been friends ever since. Wheeler’s son, Jack, plays in the water behind them. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

POLAND— Former campers and counselors volunteered together Saturday afternoon to renovate and prepare the facilities at Agassiz Village Summer Camp for the upcoming summer season while reminiscing about their experiences.

Scattered across the sprawling 330-acre grounds overlooking Thompson Lake, small groups gathered to paint, dust, clean and rearrange the spaces which campers will enjoy come the start of the season on July 4. The camp operates three 12-day sessions during the summer that will accommodate kids from underprivileged communities in Massachusetts and Maine. Those connections made at summer camp can be long-lasting, as 50% of Agassiz Village’s current staff were former campers.

Joanne Musto of Boston cleans chairs Saturday in front of the Serenity Cabin at Agassiz Village Summer Camp in Poland during a volunteer weekend. Kevin Santos weeds the lawn behind her. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Bulldozers and lawn equipment trundled across the grass, crossing paths with pickup trucks loaded with new toilets for the bunkhouses and lumber for the docks, along which volunteers trimmed any overgrowth. Crowds of adolescent campers and counselors shuffled between repair work and outdoor activities.

“A lot of us were here as young children back in the eighties. Some of my best friends are folks I met through Agassiz Village. I think that part of the reason that we remain connected is that we had a transformative experience while we were here, and together we learned to take responsibility with guidance and learned to do things that we probably never thought we could do that changed our trajectory. So when you have such an engaging experience, you come back to it, ” said Theresa O’Bryant, president of the camp’s board of directors who first came to the camp in 1975 at the age of 13. 

“Folks today are doing work with the brush and maintenance of the grounds. They’re doing painting and we’re working to put together a thrift store that of course will be at no cost for children who come without clothing. We’ll give them clothes and sleeping bags and all that other stuff,” said O’Bryant, who is also dean of student success and engagement at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. 

Nancy Glynn Santos and her niece, Laura Glynn, set up the library Saturday in the Serenity Cabin at Agassiz Village Summer Camp in Poland during a volunteer weekend. Both women were counselors at the camp and Santos also attended as a camper. The Serenity Cabin is a place at the camp for kids to go if they need a quiet place to unwind. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Founded in 1935, the nonprofit camp was the brainchild of Harry Burroughs, a Russian immigrant who came ashore in Portland at age 12 before heading to Boston, where he worked as a newsboy before receiving a scholarship to Harvard University and becoming an attorney. Burroughs wanted to establish a space for children to learn skills to be successful in life while providing an escape from their lives on the street. Scholarships are often awarded through fundraising efforts by the board of directors and private donors.


“A lot of kids are returning so they know the people that they’re with, and they get to bond outside of high stress situations and get to cool down. They have fun while they’re here, and maybe they don’t come from the best situations, but when they’re here we try to give them the best possible time: good memories going forward,” said Alijah O’Connor-Dufresne, a former camper and current activities coordinator.

Agassiz Village Summer Camp in Poland was cleaned and rehabbed during a volunteer weekend as staff and friends prepare for the summer season. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“Our mission is to help kids grow and be successful,” said Lisa Carter, the camp’s executive director since 2020. “Our values are explore, collaborate, thrive and have fun. We want to make sure the kids have fun, because it is a summer camp, but at the same time that they’re learning (these) skills and exploring new things,” she said.

The camp library, located in a small cabin near the shore of the lake, was rechristened as the “Serenity Library,” a safe space for campers to mentally decompress and where a social worker will be available if needed. Inside, Nancy Glynn-Santos of Dracut, Massachusetts, arranged books on newly painted shelves while music plays from a phone in the corner.

Glynn-Santos began volunteering after her tenure as a counselor ended in 1985 and was able to secure sizable donations of books from alumni, bookstores and the author of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series Jeff Kinney, who is a distant relative. She extolled the virtues of her camp experience as she arranged books on the shelves while music played from a phone in the corner.

“It started with being a camper up here. Basically all of my really close friends I’ve met from Agassiz, and we’re always really close. Whenever we need something, everyone is right there for us,” Glynn-Santos said. “We always say ‘Friends for Life.'”

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