Camping With A Cause: The Story of Camp Hale

SANDWICH, NH- Nestled on the peaceful shores of Squam Lake in New Hampshire, the Camp Hale grounds serve as more than just a getaway from the hustle & bustle of Boston. First incorporated in 1900 and now one of the oldest camps in the country, its mission is to offer children from Boston neighborhoods that may not otherwise have the opportunity a “refreshing, enlightening and meaningful camping experience.”

“It’s been a lifesaver for a lot of people and taught them about love, community, diversity and how to deal with it,” says Aaron Dushku, Vice President of the Camp Hale Alumni Association who recalls many years he worked summers at the Camp. “The friendships that you make in those situations.. there’s 8 kids in a cabin together, they don’t know each other when they show up yet they create lifelong bonds because they go back year after year.” Today, the Camp is attended mostly by children from the South End and lower Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston. Though the camp may have brought in children from many different areas of the city and of all ethnicities over the years, some things remain the same. “The camp program has songs and activities, of course time on the lake. You see the way things change like the telephone game over the years, but you also see a lot of traditions that stay the same.”

For Aaron, serving on the Camp Hale Board was a family tradition that he was proud to be a part of. “Our family gains so much from Camp because of what it gave to my dad. He grew up in a rough neighborhood. People who grew up in these neighborhoods came from difficult circumstances.” Aaron’s father, who was an active member of the organization, decided to also his own children to Camp Hale. There was only one problem: since it was a dedicated boys’ camp, his daughter was not able to attend. “My little sister is an actress (Eliza Dushku) and she watched as her three older brothers went to camp every summer and was bummed she couldn’t go. Over the years, she saw how dedicated our family was to the camp.”

This inspired the actress to use her talents to help give back to the organization in a special way that would forever change the future of Camp Hale. In a 2009 celebrity basketball shootout, Eliza was able to raise $60,000 in heels as she dominated a game of Horse that she used to fund the beginning of a girls’ program at the Camp. She didn’t just stop there, however. “She also auctioned off clothes from different television shows she’d been in and got some of her friends to donate in Hollywood,” explains her brother Aaron. Eliza’s efforts transformed Camp Hale from being strictly a boys’ camp to offering a program that would be welcoming young women as well.

Overall, Aaron estimates the Camp Hale Alumni Association has raised several million dollars to sponsor inner-city youth to go to camp, and it’s an organization shows no signs of stopping. “The alumni just keep coming back, and we have a really active situation,” says Aaron.

Unfortunately, the organization’s most anticipated charity event of the year that was slated for this spring had to be put on hold until November due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Yet that doesn’t mean this year’s coveted Casino night will be anything short of spectacular. “This is our big one,” says Aaron, describing the catered event by Chilacates that emanates an old-Boston feel in a setting surrounded by gaming tables provided by Boston Charity Casinos. Given the current circumstances, “Every single one of our vendors have been wonderful,” says Aaron.

With so many events being rescheduled, there’s quite a bit we can fill our calendar up with for the fall. Personally, I’m making sure Camp Hale Alumni Association’s Casino Night is one I don’t miss! If you can’t make it there yourself, no worries. Look forward to a video coming on the big event this fall!