Camp Ketcha, formerly known as Camp Fire USA Hitinowa Council – the only Camp Fire camp in Maine – opened in the late 1920s, but didn’t become a charitable nonprofit until 1964.
Since its inception, Camp Ketcha had been affiliated with Camp Fire, the first nonsectarian service and development organization for girls before it became co-ed in 1975.
The transition to an independent youth development program was finalized Nov. 6.
Executive Director Tom Doherty this week declined to provide much information about the decision to leave Camp Fire, and officials at Camp Fire did not return a call seeking comment. Doherty said the change in affiliation “will have no impact whatsoever on our staffing or programming.”
“All of our resources will be devoted to Maine children and families,” he said. “That will be the sole focus of the organization’s board, volunteers and staff.”
The organization’s annual revenue typically caps between $1 and $1.1 million, he said. Becoming an independent program will save Ketcha about $34,500 in funds that otherwise would have been allocated as Camp Fire affiliation fees.
That amount will be “put back into mission work,” he said, in an effort to continue serving “as many kids as possible.”
The crux of Camp Ketcha’s mission is to “connect kids and families with the natural world,” Doherty said. “We really want to make sure we’re doing what the community needs us to do.”
The facility sits on nearly 110 acres, at 336 Black Point Road, and abuts Libby River Farm, owned and conserved by the Scarborough Land Trust.
Today, the organization runs summer and specialty camp programs for children and young adults, an equestrian program, as well as a variety of after-school programs with activities that include environmental education, hiking, arts and crafts, and archery.
Enrollment last summer was the largest ever – “enormous,” Doherty said – with about 300 kids attending each week.
Camp Ketcha also opened a nature-based Montessori school about five years ago that now serves 14 students, ages 3 to 5, from Sept. 1 through the end of May.
This year Camp Ketcha added a new weekly after-school farm education program that teaches students about life on a farm, including canning, harvesting and how to make butter and cheese.
Ketcha also operates the Portland Gear Hub, a thrift store and mechanic shop where community members can either donate used bicycles and outdoor gear or learn how to fix them.
Talise, left, and Nahla balance on mats Tuesday morning at Camp Ketcha Montessori Preschool in Scarborough. Ketcha is now an independent child and youth programming organization, after separating from the Camp Fire organization.