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Wanting more than just happy campers

Programs at reopened Sharon site designed to prepare youth for future

A bird flying over two trees is painted on the camp. A bird flying over two trees is painted on the camp. (Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe)
By Christie Coombs
Globe Correspondent / June 16, 2011

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SHARON — For five years, the former home of the Horizons for Youth Camp on Lake Massapoag had been left empty, turning into an eyesore to some at the end of a nice residential neighborhood in this affluent suburb.

This month, with renovated cabins and a freshly groomed beach, the now town-owned property is reopening its gates as a new camping facility called Everwood Day Camp, catering to as many as 200 children, ages 4 through 12, at a time.

The town had opted to buy the 50-acre site for $5 million without a definitive plan for its use after Horizons was closed, due to dwindling enrollment and much-needed repairs to the property. Following the purchase, Town Administrator Ben Puritz asked Sharon resident Scott Brody, who owns and operates two overnight camps in New Hampshire, Camp Kenwood and Camp Evergreen, to propose a camp facility for the property.

“I took this on as a new challenge that would be good for the town and its children,’’ said Brody, who is national vice president of the American Camp Association. He and Andy Pritikin, owner and director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in New Jersey, developed the plan for Everwood Day Camp, which Puritz said surpassed the town’s stringent requirements and expectations.

Occupying an unusually large area for a day camp, Everwood won’t be an ordinary camp with just outdoor games and bug juice, said Brody. “While the camp will have the more traditional day camp experiences of arts and crafts, swimming, and sports, it will also feature other programs like theater, photography, some cooking, extensive water activities like tubing and sailing, nature and science, and adventure, including a ropes course,’’ he said.

However, what makes the camp unique is its philosophy of building a sense of community and connec tion to help the children grow, said Brody. He said the camp worked with child psychologist and author Michael Thompson to develop a program that yields the best outcome for children.

“They’ll not only be playing soccer and learning the game, they’ll be learning to problem-solve and communicate at the same time,’’ said Brody. “We’ll also be incorporating the Commonwealth’s 21st Century Skills framework into our program, ensuring that every child develops the skills needed to become productive citizens while they’re engaging in fun activities at the camp.’’

The framework is a national effort backed by 30 leading businesses and organizations to ensure that schoolchildren master the skills and competency they will need to be productive citizens and employees as adults.

“We have worked with corporate leaders to determine which skills are most valuable for high school and college graduates to possess, to make them leaders and creative thinkers in their communities. Our programs are being built upon building these competencies in our campers,’’ said Brody.

The children are developing these skills while participating in myriad activities such as daily special projects, spirit days, and events from Jell-o Wrestling to all-camp Capture the Flag and Team Jersey Day.

Husband and wife Dane and Jaime Pickles will codirect the camp. They will draw on their 30 years of combined camp experience to oversee the day-to-day operations and programs, working directly with the children on a regular basis, said Dane Pickles.

“It’s our intentionality behind the programs that makes us different,’’ said Brody. “We give the kids an opportunity to exceed their own expectations’’ by exposing them to activities they’re familiar with as well as completely new experiences.

Brody said the children will benefit from the camp’s “embarrassment of riches,’’ inherited from the benefit of occupying a former overnight camp. Many of the cabins are being entirely renovated and will be “home base’’ for the children, giving them a sense of familiarity each day and providing them with a place to keep their belongings and lunch.

Puritz, the town administrator, said the camp benefits both Everwood’s owners and the town. In part because of Everwood’s initial $85,000-a-year lease, which will increase over time, the town is able to maintain its services, said Puritz. “It’s a positive contribution in terms of stabilizing the town. This property has been an integral part of the fabric of the community since the ‘30s and likely before, and the shift to Everwood is a welcome extension of the historic use.’’

Not one resident spoke out against the town’s plans to buy the land from Horizon, according to Puritz. Town Meeting voted unanimously to purchase the land and to allow Everwood to develop the day camp with a 20-year lease and a 10-year option to extend.

Brody said he and his team have worked closely with the local conservation officer to preserve the land and the beach area, and with the neighbors to ensure a good partnership. Through a shared-use agreement with Everwood, town programs and community groups will be able to rent or use the facilities when camp is not in session.

Brody said there will continue to be substantial outreach within the town. There are plans to donate tuition-free camp sessions to local Parent Teacher Organizations and other nonprofits to raffle or auction off at fund-raisers, and the camp will cosponsor speaker series for parents. It will also host vacation camps.

“We’ve been very careful to establish a positive relationship with the town and neighbors,’’ said Brody. “If the public opinion of us changes, we’re doing something wrong. So far, it’s win-win for both sides, and the kids. We’re not an organization that just ‘does’ — dialogue is important.’’

Camp tuition begins at $425 a week for a minimum three-week session. The first session opens on June 27, and the camp will close on Aug. 26. The camp day runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the option of extended day hours for an additional fee. Transportation, on buses with seat belts, is included in the tuition. For more information, go to www.everwooddaycamp.com.

Christie Coombs can be reached at mccoombs@comcast.net.