Long before DEI took hold in New Hampshire, summer camps and programs that introduced the White Mountains and the wonders of nature to children and teens from all walks of life have served as a powerful force to break down barriers and inspire unity. Their role has never been more important.
Camp Pemigewasset in Wentworth, one of the oldest residential summer camps for boys under the same family ownership in New Hampshire and the U.S., has taken it a step further since their staff and board of directors formed a DEI committee to ensure they are as inclusive and accommodating as possible.
Pat Clare, Camp Pemi’s assistant director, saw firsthand how this body can make a positive difference when issues arise.
Last summer, Clare took 10 boys on an overnight hiking trip to Carter Notch, staying at the Carter Notch Hut, one of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s high huts along the trail. Taking boys up to the mountains to camp — for many, their very first overnight camping experience — was something that Clare loved to do. The boys were Black, Hispanic and white, hailing from New Hampshire and beyond.
Clare enjoyed giving the boys a mental and physical challenge that they would experience together. It was a learning opportunity that they’d be able to draw upon for years to come, remembering how to push forward through discomfort and to forge ahead even when it rains. “It’s not an easy hike,” Clare explained about the Carter Notch Trail. “You wake up from the hut on the second day, and it’s a two-mile straight ascent from there.”
On one morning, Clare noticed something. He watched as some campers struggled with the equipment they had brought from home — backpacks that weren’t made for the outdoors or hiking boots that weren’t the best quality. It dawned on him that while New Hampshire summer camps like Camp Pemi had been working hard to create opportunities for boys to become strong community members and thoughtful citizens, they had been overlooking the fact that the playing field still wasn’t level. That included the very non-level, two-mile ascent up a mountain.
Following the camping trip, Clare brought his concern to the committee. This winter, the DEI panel created a collection program to purchase new and used hiking gear, ensuring that all campers are properly outfitted. This is one of several ways the committee is looking at to improve their summer camp experience.
The committee was formed last summer and consists of 10 staff members, former campers and other friends of the organization. They meet monthly to discuss how Camp Pemi can be more welcoming and inclusive for all and provide bimonthly recommendations to the camp’s governing board of directors. Every year, Camp Pemi offers over 170 campers, between the ages of 8 and 15, a summer where they unplug from technology and embrace the outdoors through activities ranging from canoeing to studying nature, music and hiking. Last year at Pemi, campers came to New Hampshire from 25 states and eight countries to spend three to seven weeks.
Camp Pemi created the committee after recognizing its efforts to create an inclusive and safe space for all campers would inevitably fall short if it focused only on “the views of a largely homogenous and satisfied population.”
Their work focuses on four key areas of progress, which they developed after sending out a survey to over 239 respondents: hiring a more diverse staff; addressing inequities to access quality gear; forming partnerships with schools; and offering scholarship funds to help address financial need. The camp has also incorporated a land acknowledgement into its weekly campfire tradition, in consultation with the New Hampshire Indigenous Collaborative Collective. Camp Director Kenny Moore explains that this represents an opportunity to pay homage to the Abenaki and other Indigenous people who inhabited the Great New Hampshire Woods.
“My son, Jackson, has been a camper at Pemi for seven years. It’s been a great experience to work with the board and Pemi families on updating and strengthening Pemi’s DEI policies from gear to programming to campers and more,” says Lisa Heller, Camp Pemi’s DEI committee chair. “The commitment to DEI is present in every aspect of camp life at Pemi, and the results have been measurable and gratifying over the past few years.”
Moore points out that New Hampshire has more than 100 summer camp programs that fall under the umbrella of the NH Camps, which promote inclusivity and access. Moore says that Camp Pemi believes the DEI Committee is an opportunity to do more to share the joy of summer camp with New Hampshire’s increasingly diverse population.
Using the great outdoors to foster unity and inclusion is nothing new for New Hampshire’s summer camp culture. For decades, camps have brought together individuals from different geographies and world views and taught them the importance of collaboration and coexistence. Programs like the Fresh Air Fund — which began in 1877 and brings kids from underserved communities to summer camps — have locations in New Hampshire and Vermont. This has often resulted in life-changing experiences for participating kids and their host families.
“The world has changed a lot since Pemi was founded in 1908,” Moore continues. “We need to adapt to fulfill our mission to be relevant and supportive. We love getting campers outside to explore the wonderful great outdoors. There’s no better place than New Hampshire for them to explore the mountains, rivers and lakes, all the while learning so much about themselves.”
This article is featured in the spring-summer 2023 issue of 603 Diversity.
603 Diversity’s mission is to educate readers of all backgrounds about the exciting accomplishments and cultural contributions of the state’s diverse communities, as well as the challenges faced and support needed by those communities to continue to grow and thrive in the Granite State.
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