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Camp Six Acres celebrates 50 years

March 2nd, 2010 by admin

Article in Wicked Local

By Nell Escobar Coakley/[email protected] GateHouse News Service Posted Aug 29, 2008 @ 09:00 AM

It started with a science teacher’s dream, but 50 years later, Camp Six Acres is still going strong.

The secret to its longevity? Lots of fun.

“It’s strictly recreational,” said Roz Abukasis, who, along with co-director Mary Hoarty, has been in charge of the camp for the past 18 years. “Kids don’t get a lot of opportunities to go outside and have fun.”

Located at Temple Shalom on Winthrop Street, Camp Six Acres is an eight-week program running from the Monday after school ends in June to late August.

The camp runs for four two-week sessions — each offering something unique such as Carnival Day or World Cup soccer — and is open to boys and girls ranging in age from 6-13, five days a week. Activities include arts and crafts, athletics, swimming lessons, free swim and games, among others.

Abukasis, an academic counselor at Newbury College, and Hoarty, a physical education teacher at the McGlynn Middle School, run the program, along with a staff of 32, which include Counselors in Training (CITs), all former campers entering their freshmen year of high school; senior counselors, a group of college students; and specialists, including lifeguards and water safety instructors.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s fun,” Abukasis said of running the program. “Take this summer, weather has definitely been challenging to us. One minute it’s sunny, then it’s raining. It’s hot, it’s cold. We’ve been trying to maintain a normal schedule as far as continuity for the campers.

“In the 18 years Mary and I have been doing this, the program hasn’t really changed,” she continued. “We’ve enhanced it a bit, but the kids know what to expect so there are no surprises.”

The two are a high-energy combo, working from early February throughout the summer when most educators are enjoying a well-deserved break.

“Friday afternoons, we’re exhausted,” Abukasis said. “Thankfully, we have enough staff where they can rotate themselves in and out of activities if they’re tired.”

The accolades staff receive in smiles, laughter and thank yous from parents and campers alike are well worth the long hours, though.

“We had a parent who wrote us a letter at the end of one summer,” Hoarty said. “She said when people ask you what you did over the summer, don’t say you just worked at a camp. You touched someone’s life. That letter still makes me cry.”

Hoarty should know all about how camp can change a life. She was a Six Acres camper.

“It was very different when I was a camper,” she said. “The counselors seemed so old, they were like adults. But I remember looking forward to summer because I knew I was going to have so much fun.”

Amanda Chiozzi can relate. Like Hoarty, she’s a former camper turned counselor.

“Summer to me has always been camp,” Chiozzi said. “My parents have sent me here since I was 4. This is all I know.”

Chiozzi, now 21, is a nursing major at Salem State who has been both a CIT and senior counselor. She is scheduled to graduate in May 2009, probably ending her camp experience once she gains full-time employment.

“I’m going to miss the routine,” she said of her possible last summer at camp. “This is what I know, it’s what I’m used to. I like seeing the kids grow up, from the youngest kids to the CITs.”

Chiozzi’s story isn’t uncommon. Both Hoarty and Abukasis say there are not only countless kids who have gone through the program and returned as counselors, but several counselors who met at Six Acres and married and have kids of their own attending camp now.

Selma Adler’s oldest daughter was one such case. Adler, whose kids attended the program, was one of the original, founding members of the camp back in 1958.

“The Temple had a new executive director who worked part time,” she said. “He was a science teacher at Chelsea High School and he had some experience running day camps in Chelsea. When he got here, he saw the facilities and how nice they were and it was his suggestion for a camp.”

Temple elders gave Aaron Kipnes the OK and asked four couples to help him in the endeavor.

“We helped him in every way we could,” Adler said. “We helped with counselor selection, finances, but running a camp was his area of expertise.”

Back then, Adler said mothers stayed at home and sending kids to day camp was a bit of a luxury.

“There were a lot of free programs around then,” she said. “Kids could go to the park program, Wright’s Pond, Tufts Park pool. I guess [Kipnes] tried to make this an outstanding camp where kids would come back and that’s exactly what happened.”

When it opened, Six Acres offered archery, horseback riding, trips to Red Sox games or the Hatch Shell to see the Boston Pops. Adler said she’s proud to see that while some items are no longer a part of camp life, the program is still running strong.

“I’m not a fortune teller, but I don’t see any trend towards the camp not being there,” Adler said. “People come in the middle of winter looking for a safe, good place for their kids to be and they want to make sure they get their spot. I know the economy is an issue, but I can’t see anything but a good future for the camp.”

If the crowd of parents and well-wishers who came Aug. 15 for the last session of camp and to visit with former friends, campers and colleagues is any indication, the camp will run far into the future.

“The staff is so dedicated,” said Temple President Charlotte Potak. “I’ve visited the program unannounced eight or nine times this summer and I’ve found the counselors to be warm, well trained, responsible, compassionate and sensitive to the kids.”

Potak said the Temple would like to honor the 50 years of Camp Six Acres, an anniversary which coincides with its own 50-year ground breaking on Winthrop Street.

“We’d love to honor Roz and Mary, but we don’t know how because they’re just so modest,” she said. “They really do the best job they can every year and it’s just a great program.”

For Abukasis and Hoarty, it’s not about the accolades. It’s about the kids.

“It’s such a fun job,” Abukasis said. “I suppose if I truly thought about the responsibility I have when I get up in the morning, I wouldn’t get out of bed. But we do it because we really enjoy it.”

— Interested in Camp Six Acres? For more information about the program, call 781-391-2220. Please call after 3 p.m.