Special-needs summer camp an eye-opening experience: I had time in between jobs this summer and, because I have always loved working with Ramah’s Tikvah program for special-needs campers, I felt it would be a great way to spend the summer. I knew it would be fun and lots of work, but I never could have imagined what a strong impact it would have on me as an individual, mother and professional. I did not anticipate how deeply connected I would become with each of these incredible young adults and just how much of an impact this program has on the participants, their families and the camp community as a whole.

From the first day when the gates opened to the last day, when our building once again became just an empty space, our Voc-Ed family shared many incredible moments. For most of our participants, camp was familiar, but for others, this was their first experience at Ramah Palmer.

These 19 Institutions Are the Ivy League of Summer CampsSingalongs and s'mores by the campfire, morning Reveille, sneaking around the lake to gawk at the girls or boys in the sister/brother camp: the rituals of summer sleep-away camp are beloved and time honored. Like university, there are endless options—but for a certain set, there are really only a few: the Ivy League of summer camps.

Frequently located in Maine, many of the top camps have been around for close to a century, offering kids approximately seven to 16 years old a few weeks of summer fun, sun, and exertion. While the camps of yore focused on the basics—canoeing, archery, ceramics, hiking—more elite camps have changed with the times. Now, it's not uncommon to find gluten-free kitchens, full fitness centers offering spinning and Pilates, and university-quality sports fields—in addition, of course, to all the old standbys.

Camp Susan Curtis provides lifetime lessonsFor Dakota Warren, 20, of Buckfield, the camp means even more. She was at Camp Susan Curtis as a 12-year-old when she received some wonderful news.

“I started here when I was 8. My home situation was not super great,” said Warren, now the aquatics director at Camp Susan Curtis. “I went into a foster home when I was in fifth grade. I was in two different foster homes. I remember I was at the (camp’s) baseball field when I was told my foster family wanted to adopt me. I was excited that the mom I came home to, I could now call mom.”

The summer camp at the foothills of the western Maine mountains provides two weeks of outdoor activity for 500 Maine young people each summer. But it’s much more than a place that offers swimming, canoeing, fishing and camp songs. For more than 40 years, it has provided free educational programs to help disadvantaged youth gain confidence and the skills necessary to aspire to successful careers.

YMCA's outdoor camp expands with help of Blue Cross Blue ShieldIt was the sixth annual Service Day for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and an estimated 3,000 employees across the state were out in their communities, helping nonprofits all day. At the YMCA, volunteers gave their time and energy for six different projects on the grounds.

By the end of the day, the Y had two new fire-pits, scraped and repainted picnic tables, a safety fence around the archery field, a storybook trail, two new gardens and a redesigned and restored lunch area.