Kelly Walker recalls how nervous she was when she drove down the hill to Pine Tree Camp to drop off her son, Chase, for the first time. Chase had never been away from home before so she was worried about leaving him for six days.
The welcome at Pine Tree Camp began as soon as they started down the hill and read the little signs on the trees that line the driveway. As they approached the bottom of the hill and saw the staff standing there, they heard Chase's name announced on the megaphone and the counselors all started jumping up and down, waving and cheering him on. Kelly remembers how she and Chase reacted.
"He was hooting and hollering, and I was bawling! He heard his name immediately and he was like 'Mom, they're yelling for me!’ He was so excited."
Chase is 12 years old now and has been coming to Pine Tree Camp for four years. It is definitely the highlight of his summer.
While he is at Pine Tree Camp, he enjoys swimming, boating, kayaking, and archery. These activities aren't usually available to Chase, who lives with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and did not walk until he was four. Chase's childhood has been full of doctor's appointments, physical therapy sessions, and the disappointment of being unable to do many of the things his peers do.
When he's at Pine Tree Camp, Kelly says, "He feels free, like he doesn’t have limits."
She says that in the past, peers at school didn't understand Chase’s disability and he struggled to make friends. She says at Pine Tree Camp he has made many friends with other campers and the counselors.
"It was a huge social thing for him. It brought him out of his shell quite a bit with regular classrooms too and it's been such a blessing for him."
That has helped Chase gain self-confidence that impacts him year-round at school and in the community. Kelly said she noticed the positive impact on Chase immediately that first year.
"When we picked him up, you could just see the difference...his self-confidence...his whole attitude. He was so happy! I remember the first thing he said on the way out was 'Can I come back again next year Mom?’"
"As a parent to watch that...to see a child that has struggled for so long, to be able to just not have any weight on their shoulders as soon as they pull into that driveway, it’s amazing."
Pine Tree Society strives to make the overnight camping experience available to our campers regardless of their ability to pay tuition. Although it costs Pine Tree Society $1,900 to provide an overnight camping experience to each camper, most families pay a lot less. In fact, only about 11% of Pine Tree Camp costs are underwritten by tuition paid by campers. The remainder is made up through donations from generous friends. We ask that families contribute what they can. Pine Tree Camp's open door policy has been in place since the doors first opened in 1945. Together, we can ensure that it remains firmly in place for years to come.
Pine Tree Society helps people in Maine with disabilities lead richer, more socially connected lives. Too often, people with disabilities feel left out, even isolated. With the help of Pine Tree Society, they're not alone. We share a spirit of innovation and desire to discover new ways to break down barriers that many find insurmountable. It started as a bold new idea in 1936 and it continues every day. For more information, please call (207) 443-3341 or visit our website, www.pinetreesociety.org.