Young participants in Camp Beech Cliff's mid-winter vacation camp. PHOTO BY AMANAT KHULLAR

Mid-winter camp focus is inclusion

MOUNT DESERT — A handful of young children trek into the woods on a recent Friday morning in search of twigs, pebbles, dry grass and bark. As they make their way through the moss-covered trail of Camp Beech Cliff, they pause to examine the forts and fairy houses they created. Sylvie Piquet observes them with a smile.

“This is where the magic happens,” said the 29-year-old camp director. “It happens right here in these woods.”

More than two dozen campers joined a handful of counselors for sledding, snowshoeing, hiking on the trails of Acadia National Park and indoor rock climbing as part of a mid-winter vacation camp that began Monday, Feb. 15.

The unseasonably warm weather led to melting of the mountains of snow, which momentarily derailed the activities planned by the counselors.

“We were a little disappointed,” said Piquet. “We got a wonderful day of snow then no more.”

The team then made the best of the situation. “Instead of snowshoeing, we went hiking, and instead of building snow forts, we’re out on the field and the bare frozen grass playing capture the flag. There’s plenty to do outside regardless of the weather.”

The Missouri native said her passion for being outdoors and working with people, especially young children, brought her to the island as a challenge course counselor over a decade ago. “I fell in love with it from the beginning,” she said.

Apart from being able to explore woods all day, the part of her work that she said she values is the inclusive approach that it brings with it.

“We’ve got kids with different backgrounds, from affluent families and healthy families to the families that have more trouble with health – physical, mental or emotional,” said Piquet. “Kids just have a safe place to work through whatever they’ve got going on. It’s kind of a blank slate when they get here to just form their identity at camp.”

Even though the individual counselors focus on allowing the participants to spend time outdoors and remain physically active during school vacation week, the overall goal, she said, is much larger.

Each morning, the campers gather around and design the rules for the day – to look out for the little guy and to treat people the way one wants to be treated.

“We value the undercurrents of bringing the group together and really talking about how are we going to agree to live together knowing that you’re going to have conflicts with people,” she said. “It’s how they respond to these [conflicts] that is going to make all the difference. I think those [values] are at the core of why kids love camp.”

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Amanat Khullar

Amanat Khullar

Amanat Khullar is a sports reporter for the Mount Desert Islander. She comes from New Delhi, the capital city of India and graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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