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Keeping Camp Harbor View a challenge for Jack Connors

When Boston officials suddenly closed the dilapidated bridge from Quincy to Long Island in October, displacing hundreds of homeless people, the clock started ticking for Jack Connors.

The ad mogul-turned-philanthropist has overseen Camp Harbor View, a summer camp for urban kids on the island, for nearly eight years. But with the bridge gone, Connors’ renowned money-raising and arm-twisting skills are being put to the test. The camp’s foundation has to secure two ferry boats, rebuild a pier, and ensure that underwater lines for power and water make it to the island before 450 children arrive in July.

If Connors is nervous, he isn’t showing it.

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A few weeks ago, Connors dug into his fat Rolodex and started calling on deep-pocketed donors who could help cover roughly a half-million dollars in new expenses incurred by the sudden need for water travel. By hitting up previous Camp Harbor View contributors as well as some new ones, Connors said, he hopes to plug the gap by April. He’s bracing for the worst: It could take four years or more before a new bridge is built.

“We’re trying to raise an extra $500,000 [per summer] for all these extra costs, for as many years as it’s going to take,” Connors said. “We have some multiyear commitments [already]. A couple have said they’ll keep doing it until the bridge is back.”

Connors’s progress so far shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, it was the Boston business community’s generosity that built Camp Harbor View seven years ago. Then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino had reached out to Connors to address the violence plaguing some neighborhoods in Boston. Connors remembered seeing a field on Long Island when he visited as a child and proposed to Menino that the city-owned property with one-of-a-kind views be turned into a summer day camp.

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Connors manned the phones, and the dollars poured in. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston was tapped to run the camp and oversee its programs. Nearly $7 million paid for site work, fields, and construction of the camp’s “great hall” for its first year, in 2007. (Connors, of course, was a key donor himself.) Another $11 million flowed during subsequent years for other capital projects, such as a 150-foot pier and a swimming pool.

Then there’s the camp’s operating costs — last year, the budget was about $3 million — primarily funded through a gala that draws hundreds every June. Some of the city’s top rainmakers, such people as Suffolk Construction’s John Fish and Steward Health Care’s Ralph de la Torre, have lined up to help sell tickets for the event. This year, EMC chief executive Joe Tucci joins Connors as cochairmen of the gala.

It’s not as if the camp is running low on cash. Connors built up a $6.3 million endowment over the years. About half of that came from Partners HealthCare, the giant hospital group where Connors served as board chairman. Connors said the endowment’s purpose is to ensure the camp survives long after he’s gone — not to navigate a short-term emergency.

Cara Gould, senior executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, said most of the 900 kids, ages 11 through 14, who get to attend the camp’s four-week sessions each July and August spend the bulk of their young lives within a three-block radius of their homes. They live just miles away from the ocean, she said, but might never see the sun glint off the waves if not for Camp Harbor View.

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The first day of camp in 2007.
The first day of camp in 2007.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

“Bringing them to this island, it’s like bringing them to another world, even though it’s 20 minutes away,” Gould said.

To pull that off without a bridge, Connors and company need a boat — a really big boat. That’s why the foundation reached an agreement last month with Bay State Cruise Co. to use its slow-speed Provincetown II ferry, at a cost of $200,000 for the season. There’s more than enough room to make daily trips for the campers.

But one boat won’t be enough. Connors needed another vessel for the kids who miss the morning boat and the catering crew that will cook the hot lunches. That’s where the 60-person Miss Peddocks Island comes in. Connors said he is paying $120,000 for the season to two brothers for use of their vessel.

So far, so good. But the boats need a place to land. Connors wants to use the state-owned Squantum Point pier in Quincy, not far from where the Long Island bridge is located. Unfortunately for Connors, the pier was badly damaged in a nor’easter in October. A spokesman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation said the state agency hopes to reopen the pier in time for summer.

Then there’s the issue of utilities. NStar expects to disconnect power to Long Island this month as part of the demolition project.The bridge also carries water and phone lines between Quincy and the island. Those will be gone, too. But city officials say they’ve given a contractor a deadline of June 15 to install utility lines in the seabed.

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The variables have prompted Connors and his team to have backup plans: installing on-site electricity generators, using the island’s old water tower, boarding at the World Trade Center pier where the Provincetown II is normally docked. But these solutions could cost more in terms of time or money, in part for the extra barge trips.

Gould, the Boys and Girls Clubs executive, said she’s not worried about the remaining logistical headaches.

“I’ve learned a long time ago,” Gould said, “that with Jack Connors behind you, things happen.”

The goal

The Camp Harbor View foundation, spearheaded by Jack Connors, has to secure an extra $500,000 to run two ferry boats, rebuild a pier, and ensure underwater lines for power and water make it to Long Island before 450 children arrive in July.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.