Suffolk County

Camp Harbor View provides summer camp experience for local youths free of charge

BOSTON — Camp Harbor View is the brainchild of former Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Boston businessman Jack Connors, who wanted to find a use for the then-untouched land on Long Island. The idea was just to engage middle-schoolers during summer months. But whether it’s learning to sail, fish, climb a rock wall or learn a new sport, the free summer camp has become so much more to the city’s young people over the last 15 years.

“Most of our kids have never been to the Seaport so it’s just sort of exposing them to the city that’s really theirs in a lot of ways, but can often feel inaccessible,” says Lisa Fortenberry, Executive Director of Camp Harbor View.

Camp Harbor View serves 1000 kids in 2-week sessions over the summer. Campers have access to kayaking, sailing and fishing lessons and aquatics, sports like golf and biking, arts and crafts and rocking climbing. But Fortenberry says Harbor View is more than a camp, it’s a family. 50-percent of the staff are former campers.

“I want to be here as long as possible, honestly, because as a camper, it’s just like an amazing experience,” says Halsey Remfort, Leader in Training. He’s been coming to Harbor View since he was 12 years old.

“If 12-year-old me saw me now, they’d be like, ‘Wow, I do way more things than I thought I’d be able to do.’ I was shy, and now I’m not afraid to go up to the campers and say, ‘Hi, how’s your day?’ Like, talk to them,” Remfort said.

Shakayla Baxter is a third year Leader in Training. She says, “I’m in Metco. I go to school in Marblehead. Going out there and seeing these sailboats and everything I’m like, I want to be on it, and getting just to be on the ferry to come here; it’s exciting.”

Camp Harbor View has certainly been through its challenges. There was the pandemic, but back in 2015, the city demolished the Long Island Bridge. The camp’s next challenge was trying to get kids on the island.

“When the bridge came down, it obviously created a transportation problem and thankfully we were able to get the great financial support from our donors to be able to provide the ferry service to ensure that we didn’t miss a beat,” says Fortenberry. Now children get free transportation to camp, initially by bus.

Since its first summer Camp Harbor View has served more than 8,150 young people, provided more than $2.2 million in college scholarships, and provided support to whole families through the pandemic.

“I hope that our young people walk off with a feeling on connectivity that really loves and cares about them. I think with now kids experiencing so much trauma over the last two years, feeling connection is critically important,” says Fortenberry.

The fun, however, doesn’t stop when the school bell rings.

Camp Harbor View has a year-round Leadership Academy for high-schoolers, proving support and mentorship.

Again, all free to families.

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