HULL — Every summer for 60 years, Joe and Doris Menice watched campers from the Sunset Point Camp walk by their Nantasket Road home, each sporting a camp-issued red T-shirt, bound for nearby Nantasket Beach.
The sights and sounds of jubilant campers have been a summer fixture in this seaside community for more than 90 years. However, in 2009, summertime came but the campers did not.
Faced with drastic budget cuts following the 2008 financial crash, the Sunset Point Camp closed, creating a void in the town and for the hundreds of children who flocked there from all over Greater Boston every year.
“That was a low point,” said Joe Menice, a retired teacher who is still active in the town’s parks and recreation program. “It was so quiet without the kids next door.”
Not to be silenced, a group of local residents formed the Friends of Sunset Point Camp, raising enough money that year to allow the camp to reopen in 2010 and again provide a safe holiday retreat for more than 400 underprivileged city youngsters.
This year begins yet another new chapter: The camp, which opened in 1919 and is owned by Catholic Charities and considered its crown jewel, has just concluded a nearly $2 million renovation, made possible by a gift received last year from an anonymous family foundation that should ensure it continues to operate for years to come. Construction began in late fall and continued all winter. The final touches were applied this spring.
“It has not lost the look and feel of a camp that is nearly 100 years old,” Debbie Rambo, president of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Boston, said of the refurbished venue. “The new camp facade is just beautiful. It’s located in a neighborhood, and we wanted to keep the same look and feel for the neighbors while modernizing the facility.”
In addition to the makeover, the donation from the family trust will allow counselors to extend some of the camp’s educational programming. Counselors often teach campers how to swim, help them finish their summer reading, and provide life lessons to help them get along with others. The youngsters will also take part in drama, arts and crafts, and other recreational activities.
Essentially, the camp is a free, weeklong vacation for at-risk and low-income children, who are offered programs that promote teamwork, sportsmanship, and good health. The goal is to give them a week away from home and from the difficulties they often endure, without regard for their race, nationality, or religious affiliation. Most campers come from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, and, according to Catholic Charities, about 90 percent of the campers are from families living below the poverty line. Nearly 40,000 youths between the ages of 6 and 13 have passed through the camp since it was founded.
This summer, the first round of campers will arrive on June 27 to enjoy the major upgrades made to the 21,000-square-foot facility. Recently, a busload of students from St. Sebastian’s School in Needham took part in a day-long cleanup to help prepare the place for the summer.
The camp sits on 1.5 acres and stays open through mid-August. It includes an in-ground pool that was added several years ago, a resurfaced basketball court, paddleboats, and kayaks. In the makeover, new siding, a new roof, windows, and new decks were added outside, and the inside of the camp was gutted and rebuilt. Sunset Point Camp now meets ADA requirements and for the first time can welcome children with physical disabilities.
The main building of the camp had functioned as the old Veterans Hospital on Bumpkin Island, a quick kayak paddle from the camp, and was moved to the camp on a barge in 1919.
The camp costs about $250,000 a year to operate, including off-season maintenance costs. Since it closed in 2009, the Friends of Sunset Point Camp have raised more than $425,000 in five years, according to Kate Brigham, founder of the fund-raising group. An annual clambake at the camp — to be held on Saturday — is one of its most popular fund-raising events.
Brigham said the financial support has come not just from Hull but also from Scituate, Hingham, Weymouth, and other neighboring towns.
“It has really been a South Shore effort,” she said. “The donations come in both small and large, but the real important mission is raising awareness of the camp.
“The camp is in our own backyard, yet so many people don’t know about it. I just love how simple the camp is and what a gift it is for the kids.”
Sunset Point Camp is a gift for the community as well. The sights and sounds of the camp often waft over the bay as a sure sign for Hullonians that summer has indeed arrived. Hundreds of Hull teenagers, and others from nearby towns, have spent summers at the camp as counselors.
The Menice family moved to their home adjacent to the camp in 1954. Several Menice children have worked as camp counselors. They watched as Cardinal Richard Cushing toured the facility in the 1960s. Cardinal Sean O’Malley has also spent time at the camp.
“We’ve always enjoyed seeing the kids come in each summer, and we’ve seen the different cardinals come through,” said Menice, a Eucharistic minister at St. Ann’s Church. “It’s a fabulous place.”
Liane Bromberg, whose stucco home on Edgewater Road is a stone’s throw from the camp, said she has never had any reservations about living so close to the facility.
“You hear kids’ voices all day, and it’s really joyful,” she said. “You hear them ringing the bell for meals, and you smell the campfires.
“It’s so nice that the kids have a safe and friendly place they can come to each summer.”