Review of Chewonki Camp for Girls. Our daughter attended this camp in the summer of 2009. We would NOT recommend this camp. Unlike the Boy’s Camp, the Girl’s Camp is far more rigid with emphasis on areas one would not expect. Focusing on a girl’s willingness to try what the camp defines as delicious food rather than a girl developing independence to make one’s own choices is one example. We will focus on the rigid rules around food because it is unexpected when one is choosing a camp and this rigidity extends to other aspects of how the girl’s camp is run.
Food was a particular concern of ours due to a diagnosed medical condition diagnosed at a leading Children’s Hospital that limits the variety of foods our daughter can eat. She needs simply cooked foods with no spices or strong textures. The camp director, Genell Vashro, said that alternatives would be provided to her.
While the camp did provide alternative to vegans, it did not to our daughter. Instead, we assume the director made a judgment that our daughter’s condition was actually pickiness and arrogantly thought that by forcing our daughter to eat the camp’s food, her condition would disappear. Even when a food made her physically ill, she was forced to eat that same food again several days later in front of the entire camp. Our daughter adopted a dangerous strategy to eat little until a food appeared that she could tolerate and then she binged. Our daughter was not alone she said. Many girls who did not like the food also did a mild form of fasting and binging.
The director assumes that girls who do not like the camp’s unusual food need “weaning off their addiction to sugar and their expectation of a processed-food diet.” We suspect that most, if not all, parents who choose to send their girls to a remote wilderness camp are not feeding their children a processed food diet. Be sure to read “Food meets Philosophy” in the fall 2009 newsletter (http://www.chewonki.org/alumni/thechronicle.asp) to understand the policies. We were surprised that the girls receive letters at the end of the summer assessing whether they ate the food heartily. Our daughter’s letter read: “Sometimes you were a bit reluctant to try new things such as food. We hope that you realize and appreciate where our food comes from, and will be willing to try new adventures.” We were stunned that trying new foods was important enough to make it into a letter to our daughter about her camp experience—that was certainly not one of our goals in sending her to camp!
The camp had many spoken and unspoken rules that lead to a tightly controlled environment. It was not what we hoped for in a camp: It was not a place to spread your wings.
After the summer was over, we talked to Genell Vashro, who basically dismissed our concerns. We then wrote to the president and the Chairman of the Board about our concern about their rigid approach to food as well as other aspects of the camp. For months and months, we didn’t get a reply, despite several phone calls to follow up. Finally, we did have a lengthy phone conversation with the president, who listened and said he would follow up with us, which he never did. (This was more than 3 months ago.) So we don’t know if the camp has implemented any changes. We hope it has, particularly since it is dealing with girls at a vulnerable age when eating disorders emerge for so many.
It is my strong belief that the summer camp at Chewonki is a bedrock of environmental education. Providing solid information and hands-on learning about the environment and the impact you have on it begins at camp. My grandson spent his first sleepaway at Chewonki this past summer and is returning along with his younger brother because he thrived on this experience. Spending so much time outdoors and learning how important it is to be kind to the environment and the benefits for everyone as a result. When you live in the city you lose a sense of nature at work and the Chewonki experience was a springboard to understanding how vital it is to know your environment. Sharing this information with children at an early age is key to a successful experience for them. In my case, it was extraordinary. Most summer camps concentrate heavily on competitive sports and the refreshing program at Chewonki provides children of all ages an opportunity to learn and respect the earth. I might add, the staff at Chewonki is superb. After a Chewonki summer session the camper is undoubtedly a better educated and happier individual. With a Chewonki attitude the world will be a sweeter place.
Right from the start, Chewonki worked towards fostering a close community of students and teachers. Together, we developed a sense of unity and comfort between all members of Chewonki, such that anyone could take a seat at any table at a mealtime and feel included. The relationships developed between students and teachers, advisers, and other faculty have proved to be long-lasting and meaningful, months after the semester ended. The knowledge I gained at Chewonki, from identifying bird calls to graphing sinusoidal curves, from learning how to milk a cow to the details of American economy during the Civil War, and from lighting a woodstoves to whitewater kayaking, all came from a great experience. Chewonki has taught me countless lessons that extend beyond sustainability, transforming me into a more valuable member of any new community.
My oldest son attended Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki in 2005, and this was one of the most important and positive experiences of his life. High School for some teenagers is a place where the limits and channels of thought can become too restrictive - and this was the case for Charlie. Chewonki gave him a structure in which to explore beyond the typical boundaries of the classroom and of educational curriculums, but also to explore and occupy spaces outside of conventional culture. He went there with a fairly typical attachment to computers and "FaceBook" and the like, and came back with a far deeper love and attachment to the physical and natural world. I'll never forget the look of appreciation in his eyes as he bounded through the woods to show me his favorite tree that he spent the night next to on his overnight - and made several pencil drawings of. It's hard to overestimate how precious this connection to our world is - and this gift of connection is one of the most valuable things that Chewonki gives it's students and people that interact with it. Our stewardship of this earth is ultimately what will make the difference as our environment faces huge and growing challenges, and Chewonki stands as a place where students learn good stewarship and the importance of that. Thanks to all at Chewonki who contribute to this beautiful gift to us all.
This is an excellent organization with a terrific mission - they provide fantastic opportunities for a huge variety of people (students, professionals, the general public, etc.) and really make a difference by educating people about the environment, etc.
Chewonki gave each of our sons terrific grounding - reverence for nature, community, and self, music, humor,fairness and fun. Our family has been partaking of Chewonki programs for over 30 years and it is very much a part of our lives still. As an institution Chewonki balances traditional vallues such as camp with 21st Century technology such as solar panals. A challenging, dynamic, supportive place.
Through a private school in the Pittsburgh area, my high school daughter discovered, applied to and attended a semester at Chewonki. Being a somewhat timid child who was overdue in developing confidence and independence, it took about a month or so for her to fully experience all Chewonki had to offer. The incredible and positive experience at Chewonki enhanced not only her academic abilities, but also her appreciation for herself, others and nature. This nature reserve provides the ultimate positive experience for all who attend and should be the role model for sister camps with locations all over the USA and beyond. Thank you Camp Chewonki - keep it up for the sake of all humanity!!!!
I attended Chewonki in 1989 when the Maine Coast Semester School just started (MCS II). I loved every day that I spent there. You learn to live in and as a community and would recommend this experience to anyone who is interested in learning about the natural world.
Chewonki is truly a special place and our son is about to spend his seventh summer there. He loves the warm and friendly community, the new things that he learns, the wonderful food grown fresh from the garden and he has a greater appreciation and respect of the natural world around him.
My children and I are fortunate enough to live near the Chewonki Foundation. Therefore, we have been able to attend their public Out Reach programs which are held on site and other local sites. They were also fortunate enough to attend an area school which sends their 6th graders to an adventure program where they were able to spend 2 nights and 3 days and experienced SO much there from orienteering to the wildlife which shares the Neck with the folks who live and work there. the folks on the Neck are all wonderful and do so much for our people, community and beyond!