Portland agency, Standish camp changing kids' lives for nearly 60 years

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PORTLAND — For the first time in their young lives the Ogbogu children will have the chance to enjoy a quintessential Maine summer camp experience.

Thanks to the Salvation Army, the three youngsters will get a chance to go swimming and boating on Sebago Lake, learn new things and interact with their peers in a fun, carefree environment.

For nearly 60 years the Salvation Army Corps in Portland has been sending kids to Camp Sebago in Standish, where they are introduced to the great outdoors.

For Ken Ogbogu, the focus on religion and spirituality at Camp Sebago was also a key reason he wanted to send his children there this summer. His two youngest, ages 11 and 10, are at camp this week.

His oldest child, who is 13, will take part in the teen camp, which will be held later in July.

Beth Shevenell’s son, William, is also attending Camp Sebago for the third time this summer.

“Sending William to camp means the world to me,” she said. “His personal growth, friendships and the multiple activities (all) assist in providing him with lifelong memories. Every year when he returns from camp, I sense a difference in my son.”

Shevenell, who is from Scarborough, and the three Ogbogu children are among the 117 kids the Salvation Army will send to Camp Sebago.

Many are from Portland, but there are also participants from South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Cumberland and Westbrook.

“Camp provides a child the chance to experience new things and also helps them learn valuable life lessons” in a Christian context, said Ruth Stewart, the social service caseworker for the Portland Salvation Army.

Camp scholarships, which keep the experience affordable for participating families, are funded through a variety of sources, including private donations and special allocations from various Salvation Army Corps throughout northern New England, Stewart said.

There are no specific income criteria required for a camp scholarship, she said. Families can simply apply and the Salvation Army then does its best to accommodate all the kids who want to attend camp.

The average camp session runs for six days and five nights, according to Stewart, who said the Portland Salvation Army would be sending local children to four different camp sessions over the course of the summer.

Each year nearly 1,000 children, ages 7-12, from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont attend Camp Sebago, where they “participate in activities such as swimming, boating, hiking, archery, field games, music and arts and crafts,” according to a Salvation Army press release.

Camp Sebago opened in 1958 and it’s still dedicated to meeting the “spiritual … social and recreational needs of campers through creative, healthy experiences … in an outdoor setting,” the camp website says.

That’s the hope that Ogbogu has for his children as they attend camp this summer.

It will be the first time any of the three have been away from home and not under the direct supervision of their parents, he said.

“It will be great for them to experience the outdoors, but also to gain some independence and have fun learning with and from their peers,” Ogbogu said. “We really felt this was also a great way for them to more fully integrate into America.”

The Ogbogu family came to Portland from Nigeria a year and a half ago, and although they’d never heard of Maine prior to their arrival in the U.S., Ken said they’ve received a “warm welcome” – particularly from the Salvation Army.

“We’re starting from scratch again,” he said, “but it’s been an awesome experience to meet with so many kindhearted, truly warm people who’ve really embraced us.”

Ogbogu called the chance to attend Camp Sebago “such a wonderful opportunity for my children.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Ken Ogbogu sent his two youngest children, Jessica, 11, and Anthony, 10, to Camp Sebago this week with the help of the Portland Salvation Army. It’s not only the children’s first summer camp experience, it’s their first time away from home.

Activities at Camp Sebago in Standish include archery.