On Saturday, June 17, Camp Agawam welcomed more than 80 local boys to the Main Idea at Camp Agawam to experience a traditional Maine summer camp for one week, at no cost to them. This was the 52nd Main Idea, which began in 1971 under directors Dave and Peg Mason. The Main Idea continues Agawam’s mission in youth development and fulfills the camp’s commitment to supporting local boys in addition to those from around the country and the world.
When Dave Mason took over from his brother Appleton as director of camp in 1957, he and his wife Peg pondered what the area’s boys thought of the buses that came around every summer, bringing children from all over the country to spend 7 or 8 weeks frolicking in the woods and waters near their homes. As a longtime resident of Maine, it disappointed Dave that so many local boys could not have these same experiences. He wanted to do something about it.
In late 1970, Dave had a conversation with Helen Herz Cohen, Director of Camp Walden in Denmark, Maine, which the year before created the original Main Idea—a 10-day camping experience for economically disadvantaged girls, primarily from inner cities, to experience all the wonders and benefits of a residential summer camp. Dave and Peg loved the concept but wanted to focus it on boys from Maine, as opposed to bringing in campers from urban centers like Boston or New York.
At the conclusion of the 1971 “regular” camp season, Agawam launched its first Main Idea. Approximately 40 boys from Maine, many from Portland, arrived on the Agawam campus for a completely free one-week camping experience. Following the essential blueprint established by Camp Walden, these boys were economically disadvantaged and had never spent any time at a summer camp. Though Agawam presented a distinctly different living environment, Dave and Peg could see the positive impact that even one week had on these boys.
Agawam’s first Main Idea was a great success, and over the next couple of years Dave and Peg fine-tuned the program. While many boys continued to come from Portland and Lovell, a greater emphasis was placed on enrolling boys from the geographical area closer to Agawam, including Raymond, Casco, Gray, and Windham. Rather than offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it was designed for boys whose families were unlikely to afford to send their boys to a residential camp, and who were invited to return each year until they “aged out.” Also, the program’s timing was adjusted to occur before the full season, which also provided the staff with the opportunity to get accustomed both to each other and the daily schedule, earlier in the season.
By the time Garth Nelson became Director of Camp Agawam in 1986, the Main Idea was fully established as an important part of Agawam’s youth development mission. By this point the program had become 100% supported by donations from Agawam alumni, parents and friends, and had grown to approximately 85 campers ages 10 to 13 who primarily lived in the area surrounding the camp.
In the mid-90s, Garth tweaked the enrollment criteria for Main Idea campers to boys who would not only benefit but who were recommended because they were making positive contributions in their own communities. After a week at Main Idea, some boys have been awarded camperships to attend the 7-week season of Camp Agawam.
In 2004, the Main Idea at Camp Agawam received the American Camp Association’s Eleanor P. Eells Award for Program Excellence. This prestigious award honors organizations that “present to the public examples of positive contributions that camp has made on the well-being of individuals and society” and that respond “to the needs of people and/or societal problems using the camp environment.”
In 2005, the Main Idea was expanded to include boys ages 9 to 14 and was serving over 100 boys each year. It was also about this time that Agawam began to actively recruit former Main Idea campers onto its seasonal staff. This has been a great success. Nine members of Agawam’s staff this summer—both full-time and seasonal— started as Main Idea campers.
When Erik Calhoun became Camp Agawam’s director in 2009, Main Idea began including 15-year-olds. Their Main Idea experience would include a 5-day wilderness trip in the Rangeley Lake area, with the final night spent back at the Agawam campus.
As the Main Idea evolves, it continues to fulfill the promise initially envisioned by Dave and Peg Mason: to provide an outdoor learning experience for boys who cannot afford it but can benefit immensely from it. Its focus on serving boys from Agawam’s geographical region honors and supports the community that Agawam has called home since moving to Crescent Lake in 1923.