ORONO — Moments earlier, Bailey and Megan were as high as the sky, it seemed, having climbed their way some 40 feet off the ground via a combination of ropes, timbers and tires.
Now back on the forest floor in the woods behind the University of Maine Student Recreation and Fitness Center, the two youngsters were trading strategies on how they scaled this most challenging portion of a ropes course designed to test both physical condition and problem-solving acumen.
“I couldn’t make it up the tires,” said Megan, a 12-year-old from Monroe. “I had to use the rope to get to the top.”
“The tires were easier for me,” added Bailey, a 13-year-old from Lincoln.
And as Bailey and Megan continued to talk out their respective journeys up the ropes course, the man who made that experience happen for 21 kids from throughout Eastern Maine was busy helping others reach their own new heights — all the time with a big smile on his face.
“The experience that these kids are getting is what I envisioned,” said Roosevelt Boone, a football player and graduate student at Maine. “For a lot of these kids, this is the first time they’ve ever done anything like this, and every time they do the ropes course or the rock wall or some of the other things we’ve done, you can just see them grow.”
Boone is the visionary behind Strong Mind-Strong Body Inc., a weeklong wellness- and nutrition-oriented summer day camp held on the Orono campus in conjunction with the university’s Conference Services Division.
The camp, which completed its inaugural run last weekend, is open free of charge to youths ages 10-17 whose parents meet Department of Health and Human Services income guidelines.
“Honestly, being in the area I saw that there was a need for this because nothing goes on here during the summer and if you can’t afford to send your children to a camp, what are they going to do?,” said Boone, a Washington, D.C., native who is a running back and kick returner for the UMaine football team.
“They’re going to sit around the house and be lazy, or even worse they could get in some kind of trouble, so even if we can only offer one week the kids who come here will retain some skills from this week that they can take with them for the rest of the summer.”
Much of the camp’s focus was on such athletic activities as rock-wall climbing, football, tennis, basketball, ropes course and swimming.
But the youngsters also attended classes on nutrition, wellness, health and career opportunities, with speakers including lawyers, social workers and UMaine coaches Jack Cosgrove and Tim Whitehead.
“I wanted the kids to try a lot of new things, things they usually don’t get the opportunity to do,” said Boone, who in May earned his bachelor’s degree from Maine in kinesiology and physical education with a concentration in teaching and coaching. “I just wanted to take advantage of everything the university had to offer and just expose these kids to something different, something out of the ordinary while also giving them something to brag about, something to take home and talk about like climbing the ropes course.”
It was an evolving itinerary a year in the making, since Boone first talked to his mother, Alice Boone, on July 10, 2010, about what he had in mind for some kids from Maine.
“Every day I’d wake up and I think ‘this would be something that the campus has to offer, so why not incorporate this,’” Boone said, “or another day it would be something else and I’d think the same thing, and it’s just grown from there.
“From meeting the right people and from all the cooperation I got from everybody on campus I was able to implement a lot of things into the program this week.”
And while the participants generally preferred the basketball court and ropes course to the classroom during the week, there were lessons to be taken from all the activities.
“I learned a lot,” said Adam, a 12-year-old from Bangor. “And I made a lot of friends.”
Boone had hoped to offer a month of free summer camps this year, but economic realities forced a smaller debut.
He estimated that operating the camp would cost about $8,000, including stipends for counselors, transportation costs and facility rentals, and he was willing to take out a loan to fund the endeavor, but that did not prove necessary.
“I still have to come out of pocket a little bit,” he said. “Economically it’s always going to frustrate me, but I’m not in it for the money. I’m not making money this week, I’m spending money, but I’m giving these kids an opportunity they didn’t have, so I’m not worrying about the economic part at all.
“And next year if we can afford to run it for only one week again, we’ll do it the best we can for a week again next summer.”
Yet Boone and his mother, who serves as executive director of of the Washington, D.C.-based Strong Mind-Strong Body, Inc., are both optimistic that now that the summer camp has a year of experiences to draw upon, grant opportunities will become more available and donors more willing to invest.
“We’re overwhelmed with this. It could not have gone any better,” said Alice Boone, who works in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and also is a part-time grant writer. “I told Roosevelt to show people what you want to do, show them first, and then you will get buy-in. It’s kind of hard to give a person five thousand dollars when you don’t exactly know what he’s going to do with it, but we right-sized the camp this year to make it manageable for us and make sure all bills got paid, so even if we didn’t get a dollar we knew it was still going to happen.”
The organization also has applied for nonprofit status, which Mrs. Boone believes will help in the longer-term funding of the program.
“When we get the 501 (c) (3) determination, the possibilities are endless,” she said. “There are a lot of grants waiting to be applied for for just this type of thing. They’re stringent, to the point where you have to have your proposal in writing, including budgetary information, the focus, the goal, the strategic plan, the impact and the market analysis. “It’s got some volume to it, but now that we’ve done it we have even more feedback to include in our proposal.”
Boone is determined to bring his nutrition and wellness camp back to Orono next summer.
“I think having done this will help immensely,” he said, “because what these kids are going to take home and tell their parents they did, that’s going to track more participants and more funding from people who now can see that this program will work and that it’s worth investing in.”
Boone, for one, already is reaping the rewards of such a personal investment.
“I had one kid here who the last two years was at the UMaine football camp where I’ve been a counselor, and he didn’t talked to anyone,” he said. “He just ran around and did what the coaches told him, but socially he didn’t develop relationships during those camps. But this week he made friends and he was talking to everybody. He’s the camper of the week, definitely.
“All they need is someone to show them they care, someone to talk to, that’s all it takes. That can go a long way, and hopefully these kids can also retain some knowledge from this program that they can carry with them and go home and tell their friends and family about.”
For more information about the SMSB Wellness and Nutrition Summer Youth Camp, contact Roosevelt Boone at 202-375-8033 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org(.)