DUXBURY — Camp Wing is less than 30 miles from Boston. But to the hundreds of city kids who come to camp here each summer, the distance can feel much greater, in a good way.
The camp is the main summer headquarters for Crossroads for Kids, an innovative program whose mission is showing young people a future beyond their immediate homes and neighborhoods. They come predominantly from Greater Boston, and they will tell you that the two or three weeks they spend at Camp Wing represent much more than a change of scenery.
“You really don’t have a choice but to love it,” Mabel Francisco, 17, told me during a visit last week.
On one recent day, camp was in full swing. The campers had begun the day with a mile run. Then they collectively took the ice bucket challenge to raise money for ALS research. Later there was football and canoeing, followed by a dance party with pizza. That’s how they do lunch here.
The kids in Crossroads are the ones politicians and academics like to refer to as “at-risk,” kids from poor families and unstable environments. The camp costs $2,000 a child, but none of the campers can afford anything close to that. Their parents pay what they can, and philanthropy picks up the slack. This year Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, kicked in $100,000, enough to give about 50 kids the summer of their lives.
Over the summer about 1,000 kids cycle through, with about 200 attending at any given time.
Students typically enter Crossroads in middle school, and many of the camp counselors are former campers who never left. The words they often use to describe the experience are “life changing.”
Kelly Kennedy is one of those. She started at Crossroads at 10 and now she is a 20 year-old senior at Merrimack College, on her way to becoming the first college graduate in her family.
“Someone told my mom about it, and they have yet to get rid of me,” she said with a laugh. She wants to become a school counselor and eventually get a master’s in social work.
“I have two younger siblings, and we started together,” she said. “My brother and I stayed with it, and he just graduated from high school. My sister dropped out of it, and her life has gone in a completely different direction.”
A lot of the mission of Crossroads is helping young people to navigate the insecurity of adolescence, in part by creating a peer group grappling with the same issues, surrounded by supportive adults.
Kennedy said her Crossroads experience gave her the confidence to succeed in college. “It’s a huge part of who I am,” she said. “I’ve been through bad situations in my life, and I know it doesn’t define you. Without Crossroads I wouldn’t have done any of the things I’ve done.”
Jabahary Jissome, a 17-year-old counselor from Medford, is another former camper who plans to stay involved with the program. “They teach you how to be yourself and love yourself,” he said. “This camp has given me so much and I want to give back to it.” He is starting at Bunker Hill Community College soon and plans to become a physical therapist.
The camp is just part of the Crossroads experience. During the school year, the students receive counseling and tutoring, along with taking monthly camping trips and other activities.
The mentoring and camaraderie are intended to keep the social gains from the camp from disappearing at the end of the summer. Deb Samuels, executive director of Crossroads, said that about 85 percent of the campers stick with the program long term and 90 percent go to college.
The way she views it, Crossroads is about social mobility.
“We want them to have a level playing field.” Samuels said. “I’ll know we’ve done our job when they feel that any dream they have is within reach.”