Camp Harbor View: Summer Enrichment for Virtual “Campers”

For years, SwissGear has partnered with Camp Harbor View to supply inner-city campers with backpacks for their unparalleled summer experience. Located on Long Island in Boston Harbor, the camp traditionally operates over eight weeks during the summer months, treating Boston kids with outdoor activities, leadership building and plenty of healthy social interaction.

Camp Harbor View: A Rich History of Community Support

Each summer, this unique Boston Harbor camp hosts more than 1,000 youths at its fabulous island facility at no cost to the campers’ families. The non-profit behind Camp Harbor View has three primary focuses: Camp, Leadership Academy and Family/Youth Support Services.

First conceptualized in 2007 by Boston’s Mayor Menino and businessman Jack Connors, the camp opened to its first 300 campers in July 2007. Originally, their purpose in creating the camp was to minimize inner city violence, which escalated during the long, hot summers. Attendance has blossomed over the years, and Camp Harbor View now offers year-round family support services, including:

  • Social, emotional and financial counseling
  • Mentoring
  • Job readiness
  • Life skills

Camp Harbor View relies on donations to fund its essential community programs. In-kind, corporate and individual donations plus fund-raising events allow the organization to continue supporting the youth and families of Boston’s inner-city neighborhoods.

The summer camp puts fun at the top of its list, but it also emphasizes respect, responsibility, courage, community and character. Through its aquatic, musical and athletic programs, it brings out the best in each individual in grades six through eight, celebrating the diversity that exists even within close-knit Boston neighborhoods. Confidence-building and leadership development are among the positive results.

An in-ground swimming pool, an amphitheater, the great hall and other common spaces on the island, nicknamed “Island of Opportunity” by those who know it best, have welcomed campers in years past to an idyllic summer experience. Arts, music, aquatics, sports and science are some of the focuses the appeal to a diverse group of campers.

However, due to the pandemic, the 2020 Camp Harbor View summer day camp was somewhat different. The Covid-19 virus made it necessary to re-invent the camp experience from the inside out. The primary change was that venue became virtual instead of onsite.

In addition to a SwissGear backpack, stuffed with camp apparel and gear, organizers packed up 750 bins filled to the brim with camp and family activities plus gift cards for groceries. Then, they delivered them via school bus to the inner-city neighborhoods they serve.

Why Did They Decide to Make Camp Harbor View Virtual?

Typically, the summer camp is a very social, hands-on experience that brings people in close contact, making the risk for infection during the pandemic high. Camp Harbor View leaders did not want to put campers, staff or their families at risk for Covid-19.

Camp Harborview Swissgear Backpacks

Participants in each four-week day camp session normally share a daily boat ride in close quarters to and from Long Island. At camp, they share equipment like bikes and helmets, art materials and sporting goods that are difficult to keep sanitized in between uses. They share meals and daily activities that do not adapt well to social distancing. Camp organizers made the decision that the best way to keep campers safe in the summer of 2020 was to go virtual.

Rather than limiting how many kids could attend camp or shortening the length of sessions, the organization wanted to serve as many participants as possible. During the pandemic, the best way to accomplish that goal was to pivot away from in-person interaction toward safer, virtual activities.

The camp organizers set about assembling summer engagement kits, consisting of an activity bin and a Swiss Gear backpack, to those who would have attended an onsite 2020 camp session.

These kits encourage Boston families to share quality time as they shelter at home with interactive games and activities. They also provide grocery gift cards in support of families during uncertain economic times.

How Did Camp Harbor View Make the Transition?

Through a combination of fun, hands-on learning tools and online activities, Camp Harbor View has navigated the divide between its island home and its inner-city campers who are home-bound. Participants could logon to virtual camp and complete guided projects, participate in social groups and post completed projects.

In addition, Camp Harbor View added staff to address the particular needs that arose due to the pandemic. New staff includes counselors who offer emotional support to youth and parents who are self-isolating. The organization also brought crisis response staff on board to provide mental health support.

A bonus effect of the virtual 2020 Harbor View day camp experience is how it provided kids with a preview of what their upcoming school year might look like. Learning at home, bonding with family members and keeping in touch with peer groups online are all skills kids need to hone during the pandemic, and attending day camp remotely is good practice.

The learning projects, games and maker kits campers receive supply summer enrichment that helps them maintain and expand their level of knowledge and skills, so when they return to school, whether in the classroom or online, they are ready to continue learning. Plus, the SwissGear backpack each camper receives helps them keep their school supplies, books and homework organized.

Leadership Programs Remain Agile in Response to Covid-19

Camp Harbor View’s RISE program, Realizing Interests through Support and Education, supports Boston’s 9th graders who have completed a session at Camp Harbor View. RISE provides them with:

  • Mentoring
  • Skill workshops
  • Exploring college options
  • Exploring career options

Traditionally, RISE has included after-school programs and Saturday workshops once a month on leadership skills and planning for the future. Due to Covid-19 concerns, however, the structure of RISE has undergone revisions to protect the safety of participants. In-person meetings have given way to virtual and hybrid programs.

Camp Harbor View’s Leadership Academy also offers a program called “Leader in Training” for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. This year-round program supports high school students during these critical years as they prepare for college and careers.

Each participant has an advisor who helps them successfully navigate their present studies and their future plans. Camp Harbor View employs leaders in training at its summer camp as near-peer mentors to campers and junior counselors.

Like the RISE program, Leader in Training has shifted its normal schedule of programs to minimize risk of Covid-19 transmission, making the following programs virtual or semi-virtual:

  • After-school mentoring and enrichment
  • Saturday workshops on skills development
  • Customized programs for each grade
  • Weekly advisor check-ins



What About Next Year?

Camp Harbor View observes the restrictions the state of Massachusetts puts in place for its Covid-19 response. The organization will review and reorganize prior to the upcoming summer camp dates to determine whether it is safe to return to normal.

SwissGear will continue to provide camp/school backpacks to each participant, whether camp remains virtual or goes back to an in-person experience. We support Camp Harbor View and the essential services it provides for Boston’s inner-city youth, during the Covid-19 pandemic and into a healthier future.

Author: Joseph Daniels