Erik Calhoun has been the director of Camp Agawam for 10 years. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

RAYMOND — After a century of serving boys aged 8 to 15, Camp Agawam Director Erik Calhoun says that even with a host of new activities, the most important aspect of camp is still personal growth.

If you have lacrosse or you don’t have lacrosse, it doesn’t fundamentally change what you do as a camp,” Calhoun said. “We’re a camp about youth development and character development.”

Camp Agawam, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, sits on the Raymond/Casco line on the shore of Crescent Lake. Originally founded in 1919 on Stinson Lake in Massachusetts, the camp moved to its current location two years later. In 1985, it was sold to the alumnae and became a nonprofit, and it now serves 135 boys each summer for a seven-week session.

Calhoun, who has been director for 10 years, said that “one of the great aspects of Agawam is there’s a timeless nature to it.” His dad was a camper in the 50s, he himself was a camper and a counselor and his son is now a camper. His son’s “experience just so reflects my dad’s experience from the 50s,” he said.

In many ways, Camp Agawam feels like a relic of an earlier age. Both campers and counselors are banned from using personal electronics; everyone bunks in cabins.

Basil Murray attended the camp from 1984 to 1995, as a camper and a counselor, and said Agawam is “one of the most special places for me that exists as far as a physical location and it’s one that I still get goosebumps every time I drive down that camp road.” 

He continued, “It’s not easy going to junior high school growing up in the American school system with all the social pressures, and this was a place that was sort of magical that we escaped to seven weeks out of the summer.”

This timeless quality, Calhoun said, stems from the fact that at its core, Camp Agawam’s mission and focus on personal growth remain unaltered: “That camper experience is the same. There’s so many little traditions.” 

Campers frolic in Crescent Lake in the early 1920s. Courtesy photo

For instance, every week each boy receives a katiaki goal, or a personal growth goal, from his counselor. Depending on the boy’s age, that goal could be anything from trying a new activity each day to thinking of four leaders in his life and attempting to emulate their strong leadership qualities. At the end of the week, there’s a special ceremony, and those boys who have worked hard on their katiaki goal receive a candle and those who haven’t do not.

Here’s this ingrained character development piece that we’ve been doing since the 30s. But also, not everybody’s getting a trophy. If you don’t get that candle, it stinks. But it’s a growth opportunity as well,” Calhoun said. 

Jeremy Cluchey, who attended camp as a camper and a counselor from 1991 to 2005, thinks the katiaki goals are important even as boys grow up and move on from camp,.

That’s a really distinctive thing that I still think about. A weekly goal for something that’s constructive and tailored to them and achievable becomes a really good model for goal setting in life. I don’t know where else you can find that,” he said.

Pete Caesar attended camp on and off from 1958 to 1971 as a camper and a counselor and now serves on the board as a Life Trustee. He said that “Agawam has really been a bedrock for me in defining what my life is all about and how I live it.”

He added that the Camp Agawam experience is “invaluable, especially nowadays when change seems to be the only constant in our lives. Agawam stands for eternal values. It stands for teamwork and community and thinking as a group and teaching leadership and putting boys in situations where they are called on to interact with one another instead of with a screen.” 

Camp Agawam is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Courtesy photo

Although much has remained the same, Calhoun concedes that the camp has considerably expanded its offerings over the years. It offers a variety of activities, from wood shop and lacrosse to sailing and swimming.

However, he said the biggest change is the new complexity of running a summer camp as standards have shifted.

“The American Camp Association has a whole series of standards that we need to make sure we maintain. The state has standards. That piece of it is considerably more complex,” Calhoun said.

Another change is that the surrounding area has become less rural. As a result, the camp has purchased surrounding parcels of land in order to maintain its rural feel; Camp Agawam owns just under 100 acres.

In honor of its 100th anniversary, the camp is in the midst of a $10 million capital campaign, of which it has currently raised approximately $8.5 million. Nearly all of it has come from alumnae. Calhoun says $2 million will be used for “bricks and mortar” alterations, such as moving the rifle range and archery range and re-routing the road in order to keep the campers away from delivery trucks and other non-camper activities.

The rest of the campaign will go towards the camp’s endowment as well as camperships, which are scholarships for boys who are unable to pay for the full cost of camp.

Every camper and counselor paints a rock each year. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

In addition, the camp offers The Main Idea, a week of free camp for over 100 boys from Maine who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a camp experience.

Camp Agawam will also celebrate its anniversary with a reunion party at the end of the summer. Calhoun hopes that the capital campaign will wrap up this fall or winter.

In the future, Calhoun said “we will always have to put a toe in the sand about the seven weeks.” A seven-week camp is “a dinosaur” and Camp Agawam competes not with other camps but with a changing school year and other activities, such as sports.

Another challenge the camp is grappling with is milfoil in the lake. “If something were to happen to the lake, it would completely change the complexity of the camp,” Calhoun said. 

But for now, Agawam will continue to focus on its mission and being, according to Caesar, “a simple, values-driven, character development-driven experience that really helps each boy find his best self and run with it.” 

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