June 22, 2018
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Camps fret over Libra funding cut

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — With a river of scholarship money that flows to summer camps set to dry up next year, camp directors in the Bangor area said they would take a wait-and-see approach before making forecasts about how the change will affect their operations.

The Libra Foundation, which has funneled more than $28.5 million to camp programs in Maine since 1999, announced this week that after this summer, its money will be directed elsewhere. Owen Wells, the organization’s president, said the decision was driven in part by the fact the program from the outset was intended to run for 10 years.

“We believe the time has come for us to rethink our philanthropic focus,” said Wells in a news release. “We’ll see the program through its 2010 season and will then use the next year to research other areas of need for investment.”

In the Bangor area, the Libra money is administered through Camp Bangor, a program run by the United Way of Eastern Maine. United Way spokeswoman Emma Pope-Welch said at least 7,800 Bangor-area youth have received Libra funding for dozens of camps ranging from the Maine Discovery Museum camps in Bangor to the Kent Salfi Hockey Clinic in Brewer.

“I think the camps will be OK,” said Pope-Welch. “Some students might not attend camp who might have benefited from Libra funding, but I think the camps themselves are going to continue.”

Mary Ellen Deschenes, a consultant for the Maine Youth Camping Foundation, said her organization doesn’t track which organizations the cut will affect and how much, but she expected day camps to be hit harder than residential camps.

“There are some camps who sprung up around the availability of the [Libra] funds,” said Deschenes. “It’s a sad situation. We sense there will be some programs that will just not operate anymore.” Deschenes couldn’t identify which camps might be at risk. Several camps contacted by the Bangor Daily News said they would sur-vive and that their major concern was for children of low-income families who might have lost an opportunity.

“We’re going to really miss those kids having the opportunity to come out and climb with us,” said Trish Stoops, camp and summer program director for Acadia Mountain Guide Rock Climbing Adventure Camp in Orono. “Financially, we don’t know yet how it’s going to affect us.”

Stoops said that because of a paperwork problem, only four of the camp’s 90 students were Libra-funded in 2009, but in previous years there have been considerably more. “We were really disappointed that we didn’t utilize the program more last year,” she said. “[The loss of Libra funding] won’t be make or break for us but for me personally, it’s not so much about the money. I just think of the kids who we’ve had sign up year after year.”

At the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department, the impact of the lost funding might be considerable, though little is for certain. Department director Tracy Willette estimated that 30 percent of participants in the summer day camp use Libra funding. Because some of those campers don’t spend the whole summer at the camp, the actual financial impact might be at a lower scale than 30 percent, Willette said.

“This will certainly cause us to take a look at our program to see how many Libra kids we have,” he said. “We’ll have to see this summer how this will affect us for the next year.”

Susan Thibedeau of Bangor used Libra funding dollars to send her elder son to a weekend-long camp last summer after years of day camps. The experience was so positive that the Thibedeaus were considering a weeklong camp for him this summer. Their younger son was looking forward to the same experience, but even he knows the impact that the loss of Libra funding might have. The family discussed it earlier this week.

“He said, ‘Oh, I wanted to do that too,’” said Thibedeau. “[The loss of the scholarships] might make us think more about day camp versus overnight camp. [Libra] never said they were going to do this forever but you kind of have that feeling that once they start, they won’t stop.”

As in past years, the United Way will host the Camp Bangor Camp Fair, an opportunity for parents to choose a camp, from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the Bangor Civic Center.

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