Sporting pink reflective sunglasses that matched her bright lipstick, Lisa Fortenberry clapped and yelled “Day one, baby!”
In front of her, campers exited their buses in single file Monday. Some tried to keep a cool countenance — one even kept his arms crossed as he strode along — but the staff’s energetic welcome was tough to resist. When the teenager thought no one was looking, he let a smile cross his face.
The campers were headed for a boat that would take them to Camp Harbor View, where a high-ropes course cuts the skyline, orange flags line a scenic boardwalk onto the island, and waves crash against the rocky waterline next to the basketball and tennis courts.
For eight weeks over the summer, Long Island in Boston Harbor is filled with hundreds of sixth- to ninth-graders from Boston who attend the free day camp, which is funded by private donors and corporations.
“It’s really special that it’s an island just for us,” said camper Salome Garces, 12. “The staff keeps us safe and makes sure that we’re having a lot of fun, that everyone’s included.”
On the boat ride to the island, many campers were quiet. Once they were there, they were soon cheering each other on as they raced to fill up buckets with pool water, drenching their counselors in the process.
“By about day three their timidity has changed into delight,” said Sharon McNally, president of Camp Harbor View, during a telephone interview.
The camp has two four-week sessions, with 450 campers per session. There are about 200 counselors and junior counselors, ages 15 to 25. Campers are admitted by lottery, but some spots are reserved for those who have attended before and want to return.
It was the first year at Camp Harbor View for Alfonzo Rodriguez and Feliciano Tavares. But the two 11-year-olds, friends since preschool, were already feeling at home.
“Everybody’s friendly,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to like this camp.”
Fortenberry, the camp’s executive director, said the four weeks on Long Island are meant as a carefree getaway.
“A lot of our kids come from neighborhoods and situations where they’ve experienced a lot of stress and a lot of trauma,” Fortenberry said. “This should be a place where none of that exists for them. Our job as staff is to show that.”
Bashier Kayou, who has worked at Camp Harbor View for 12 years and now is its dean of engagement, said the camp works to bring people together. “They want to work with each other,” Kayou said. They want to support each other.”
Camp Harbor View doesn’t end after the four-week summer session. The camp offers free therapy sessions during the school year, and high school students can apply to be a leader-in-training. High school students who serve as leaders-in-training can also join a year-round program that pairs them with a mentor and helps them prepare for the future.
Melissa Simplice has climbed the Camp Harbor View ladder. First, camper. Second, she was a leader in training. Third, staff. Now, the 21-year-old College of the Holy Cross student is the camp’s communications intern.
“Once you’ve been going here for years, you can’t stop,” she said. When she started, she was shy. But as she learned some of the core tenets of the camp — character, courage, leadership — her confidence grew. She credits the camp with helping her realize her potential.
“A lot of Boston schools don’t really talk to you about college. They give you that, ‘Oh, you can go to state school or community college,’ ” she said. “But when I entered the LIT program they were taking about schools like BC, Northeastern. All these other places I didn’t even know I could get into or consider.”
After years with the camp, Simplice realized she wanted to help with branding and marketing. She wasn’t afraid to put herself out there and ask to see if there were any positions available.
“It’s such a family-oriented place that once you are a camper . . . you’re part of the Camp Harbor View family,” she said.