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Charities' Sunset Point Camp celebrates 100 years of service

  • A young girl holds up “slime” she created as part of a craft activity Aug. 6. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • Children work on an art project at Sunset Point in August. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • Catholic Charities’ Sunset Point Camp in Hull was founded 100 years ago to give children from urban neighborhoods a week of fun and activities by the ocean. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • The main building of the “Children’s Vacation House,” as Sunset Point was then known, in the early days of the camp. Photo courtesy Kate Brigham/Catholic Charities

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HULL -- Sunset Point Camp is almost hidden, situated in an ordinary-looking neighborhood off a main road in Hull, but it is a place where extraordinary things happen.

This summer marks 100 years since Sunset Point Camp opened and began providing at-risk, low-income children, ages six to 13, with a weeklong overnight summer camp experience.

"We're kind of like a hidden gem in Hull," assistant camp director Mary Coyer said when the Pilot visited the camp on Aug. 6.

70 percent of the campers live in the Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston. A registration fee of $25 provides a child with transportation, meals, overnight accommodation, recreational activities and field trips.

"To pull kids out of that home setting and give them that break, it really does give them a chance to be a kid again. I think that's one of the most incredible parts about what we do," waterfront director Severin Chambers said.

In 1920, the Massachusetts State Council of the Knights of Columbus donated the building -- formerly a veterans' hospital on Bumpkin Island pulled by horse over frozen Hingham Bay -- to Catholic Charities, and James J. Phelan donated $5,000 for the one-acre lot at Sunset Point.

Different organizations have supported the camp throughout its history. Many volunteer groups come in to help keep the camp clean and, each week for the past 50 years, the Knights of Columbus have provided ice cream for the campers. The Proparvulis Club (whose name means "for the little ones") provided significant support to the camp from 1922 to 2013. Thanks to a donation from the Flatley Foundation, the camp underwent renovations in 2013-2014 to make its facilities fully handicapped accessible.

"It takes a village to keep the camp alive," program director Ivana Veiga said in a July 29 interview with the Pilot.

In the camp's 100-year history, there was only one summer when it did not open. Sunset Point temporarily closed its doors in 2009 due to a lack of funding. This prompted Kate Brigham, whose son was a lifeguard at the camp, to form the volunteer organization Friends of Sunset Point Camp.

"The mission of the Friends of Sunset Point Camp has been mostly about awareness," Brigham said Aug. 5.

She admitted that before her son worked at the camp, she had not even known where it was. She learned from him how much the campers get from their experience.

"These children are reaping benefits of fresh air, and outdoor play, and comradery, and healthy teenagers guiding them through the day, and I thought, 'That can't end. That shouldn't stop 90 years into its existence.' So that was my motivation to get in touch with people," Brigham said.

The Friends organized a cleanup to raise awareness of the camp and raised funds for its reopening.

The camp reopened in 2010, and the Friends have held an annual fundraiser each year since.

Program director Veiga said this year's fundraiser, held on June 22, was "the biggest one and the most successful one to date." Between 25 and 30 former volunteers, staff members, and directors came to kick off the camp's centennial celebration.

Brigham put together a timeline of the camp's history that was displayed during the fundraiser. The timeline consisted of one poster for each decade from 1919 to 2019, and included trivia about world history as well as quotes and photographs from people associated with the camp.

"It's nice for today's kids to see that what's happening for them now isn't just at this moment, but there's a long history behind it," Brigham said.

Camp director Brandon Cox said the best part of the centennial has been seeing people come back to share their memories.

"It's been really cool to see the effect that this place has had on a lot of people who still feel really connected to the camp," he said.

The camp has partnered with local organizations to provide field trips to campers. They have sailing and rowing lessons at Hingham Maritime Center, study marine science at the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, play miniature golf and arcade games at Paragon Park, and learn about the history of Boston Harbor at Spectacle Island.

"Just to be able to give them a new experience is something that we really enjoy," Cox said.

Some campers live close to the ocean but have never visited the beach. The camp gives them an opportunity to try water sports, such as swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. There is also an arts and crafts room, an indoor gymnasium, a field, and a swimming pool.

Different nights of the week feature special events, including a talent show, a make-your-own-pizza night, a movie night, an ice cream social, and a "treasure night" when campers play arcade games and earn tokens that they use to redeem prizes.

The last weeklong camp session is Buddy Week, when the camp hosts children from South Shore Special Needs Athletic Partnership (SNAP), a nonprofit that provides athletic activities to children with disabilities and special needs.

In 2018, the camp had a float in the Fourth of July parade in Hingham. Campers marched in the parade again this year, with the float this time bearing an inflatable birthday cake in honor of the camp's centennial. While some campers sat on the float, others walked and gave out candy to the parade watchers.

"Community engagement is very important. It's what keeps us alive. We're doing this work for the community. These kids will be community members one day, and we want to set them off on the right foot and let them know there's programs out there and there's people that care about you," Cox said.

The camp has even received donated tickets allowing them to take groups of campers to see the Boston Pops, the musical "Hamilton" and a movie premiere.

"Any opportunity we get, whether it's during camp season or outside of camp season, we always take advantage of opportunities to gather some kids together that were at camp with us and take them to experience something new and different," said Cox.

Even after the summer ends, Catholic Charities stays in touch with the children and continues to offer support. The camp hosts social and recreational events for them throughout the year, such as a Friendsgiving meal around Thanksgiving.

"That's saying to this child, 'You're not alone. You met someone, and this person's going to continue to touch you in your life,' said Francine Townsend, a volunteer for the Friends of Sunset Point Camp.

Townsend said the camp influences not only the campers but also the volunteers and staff, many of whom come from the suburbs.

"They don't have a lot of opportunities to interact with people of other incomes and backgrounds, so the camp provides that," Townsend said.

She added, "You see at these events, when the staff come back, how much it has really influenced their lives and how strongly they feel about it. It's almost like an alma mater of sorts."

Cox said he now has staff members who were once campers.

"They want to make sure that this place stays as special now as it was to them when they were kids," Cox said.

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