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Camp for children, adults with disabilities adapts amidst COVID-19 to welcome people back safely

The 'Pine Tree Camp Adventure Day Pass' allows children and adults with disabilities to visit campus for the day and take part in recreational outdoor activities.

ROME, Maine — Happenings at 114 Pine Tree Camp Road look different this summer. In years past, crowds of people would be laughing and dancing together outside by the shore of North Pond. Cabins would be filled with campers and their families excited for overnight stays. The coronavirus pandemic has changed that, though.

Pine Tree Camp had to make the tough decision earlier this year to cancel regular programming – but offering nothing at all in-person for campers didn’t feel right. It’s why in May, they started planning for a program that took hold in mid-July and has been full basically every day.

“It creates that community. It makes them feel like they belong,” Camp Director Dawn Willard-Robinson told NEWS CENTER Maine about the importance of what they provide. For 75 years, Pine Tree Camp has been giving people with disabilities the opportunity to get outside and do recreational activities, which can sometimes be tough.

RELATED: Pine Tree Camp gets creative, finds alternative ways to give campers summer experience

“I know for our campers, they really need the accessibility piece of it – so, they might not be able to just all jump on a boat somewhere together,” Willard-Robinson explained. “This allows them the opportunity to be able to do that.”

'Pine Tree Camp Adventure Day Pass' allows adult and children campers to visit the campus for a morning and afternoon and take part in a number of programs, like hiking, building bird houses, making s’mores, boating, fishing, swimming, and archery. A handful of staff members are available wherever needed to make sure everyone is staying safe, and family members and caregivers are welcome to come too.

The program runs every other day through July and August and has up to 20 spots a day. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the nurse on site does a health screening test upon arrivals, and all equipment is sanitized regularly. The day pass costs $10 per person, but organization members say if you can’t pay, just let them know.

RELATED: Maine summer camps face uncertainty during coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic

Assistant Director Mary Schafhauser says the day program has been beneficial to campers and staff.

“I think it’s so hard to find accessible recreation areas,” Schafhauser expressed. “To just let 285 acres sit here – I just think that’s not what we’re about.”

Single mother Meghan Bouchard of Freeport is on her third year visiting Pine Tree Camp with her son, Trey. She told NEWS CENTER Maine he was born prematurely and not breathing and suffered a stroke at some point before or after birth. Now, he was cerebral palsy and hydrocelphalus.

“It’s amazing,” Bouchard raved about the Pine Tree Camp. “It’s a breath of fresh air, literally.”

Bouchard says the program is unlike any other in the state, which is why she and Trey keep returning.

“For me as a single mom, it means everything,” Bouchard expressed. “Meeting new people under really similar circumstances that you don’t see every day – it’s really heartwarming, and you kind of feel at home. You feel like you fit in. You belong here.”

Willard-Robinson says they are hoping to continue this program through the fall.

RELATED: Volunteers build barn at Rome camp for people with disabilities

To learn more about the 'Pine Tree Camp Adventure Day Pass', click here.