WISCASSET, Maine — This year calls for celebration, as 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of Chewonki, a nonprofit environmental education center in Wiscasset dedicated to encouraging transformative growth and instilling community values in young students through the natural world.
Although Chewonki originally began as a boys summer camp, the organization now serves more than 20,000 young boys, girls and teens from Maine and all over the world. Chewonki offers a broad spectrum of programs for youth, including day trips, summer camps, wilderness trips and academic semester programs year-round.
Chewonki also collaborated with Regional School Unit 1 of the Bath area in 2014 to launch FLOW, Fundamental Learning on Water, an educational outdoor program that takes RSU 1 eighth-graders on a camping and saltwater canoe trip in the fall.
The organization was founded in 1915 by Clarence Allen, a progressive teacher from Massachusetts who created the summer program with a focus on nature-based learning in order to combat the unhealthy effects of urbanization in youth.
With the prevalence of technology in our society, especially in the younger generation, Chewonki programs are still focused on Allen’s vision 100 years later.
“As modern life becomes faster paced, connected technologically, but disconnected personally, and as the scale of modern society grows and puts increasing pressures on our natural resources, Chewonki is more important than ever to help those who come here connect to themselves,” said Willard Morgan, president of the organization.
Morgan, a former teacher at the University of Vermont, said he was personally attracted to Chewonki because of the experiential nature of the program and the way it explored the connection between intellectual life and nature.
“In mainstream society, the academic and the experiential usually don’t meet, and what we do at Chewonki is we believe that they’re better together,” he added.
In addition to Chewonki’s education program, the organization’s effect on the community is further explored in the book “Chewonki: 100 Years of Learning Outdoors.”
It was published to commemorate the centennial in a tangible way, a result of a three-year project.
The book is a collection of 82 first-person accounts, written by current and former students, campers, camp parents and staff members scattered across the globe who address the effect that Chewonki has had on their lives.
The essays are accompanied with photographs of the Chewonki campus, participants and programs that have spanned over the decades.
“We decided to tell the story of the last 100 years through the lives, the voices of people whose lives have been touched by the organization,” Morgan said.
He said the idea for the book evolved after meeting with staff, alumni and advisers in preparation for the centennial.
“For some people, it was a significant transformational experience to be here,” said Deborah Cook, the interim director of Advancement and Communications at Chewonki.
This is a truth that is echoed from essay to essay.
“For me and so many others, Chewonki was the place where body, mind, spirit and community got on the same page and shouted, ‘We can do it!,’” wrote KC Golden, a former Chewonki staff member and the current senior policy adviser at Climate Solutions.
In addition to the book’s publication, special events and alumni trips are planned for the centennial celebration, which will take place on the weekend of Aug. 14-16.
The celebration will allow alumni to sit through semester student classes, experience science trips on campus, partake in good food, music and campfires, among other activities.
Cook also added that many alums have already asked to partake in various projects around campus during the celebration.
“One of the things Chewonki alums love to do is contribute to the work of the place, so we’ve had special requests to be able to work on the farm or chip in around campus, so there will be opportunities for that,” she said.
But in light of Chewonki’s accomplishments and the upcoming celebrations, Morgan said they are already planning for the future.
“Some questions we’re really beginning to ask are what are the needs of the community. And then looking at the resources and skill-sets that we have, how can we, as we go into the second century, play a more community oriented role,” he said.
Cook agreed with Morgan, adding that Chewonki’s identity is rooted down in consistency, as well as growth.
“As we move forward, I see this really interesting balance of taking what we do now and continuing to do it very well — looking to see to where our expertise is, what the community’s needs are, what our markets want, and to grow,” she said.