Creating lasting impact by centering youth voice & choice

One of our core values at Camp Harbor View is to center the voices and experiences of our community in everything we do. We see it again and again, when the teens and families in our programs play a meaningful role in shaping our community initiatives, we maximize impact. 

The two of us recently had an opportunity to share with the American Camp Association community about our philosophy on centering participant voice and choice, as well as some of the tangible steps we’ve taken as an organization to make this aspiration a reality. Here are the three keys: 

  1. Always be learning
    We believe that to be our best, we must acknowledge the wins while constantly focusing on how we are learning from the participants in our programs. This is easier said than done, and we are working on it. 

    We’re relentless about inviting feedback and input after our programs, and we’re dedicated to building real relationships so teens and families know we’re really ready to listen, not just check off a box. And we make sure that we don’t rely on just one format or avenue of listening and learning. 

    • Surveys can be a quick method to hear from lots of folks, but they’re impersonal and might get lost in inboxes. One essential element is to make them easy to fill out and keep them short. One tactic we use is to ask one question after a session: “Did you like this activity?”
    • There’s nothing like an in-person conversation, but this requires travel, child care, and more. 

    The key is to offer more than one avenue to engage so everyone has a chance to contribute.
  2. Collect data and review it regularly
    Our process of becoming a learning organization is ongoing. One of the best ways we’ve instituted this culture change is by collecting data, analyzing it, and adjusting our programs—over and over again. 

    One of our areas of focus has been to create simple systems to review data regularly and reflect on what we’re learning as a team. A pile of data is useless unless you’re looking at it, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. A monthly team meeting to review survey results, attendance, and other data is a helpful milestone.
  3. Commit to co-design
    At Camp Harbor View, we’ve established a Youth Council and Parent Advisory Board. These are new leadership groups in our organization. We are not just asking them for feedback, we are working with them to co-design our programs. We know that if we want to elevate our game and maximize our impact, it will be led with young people and parents walking the journey with us.

Whether you’re also running programs for youth and families or if you’re at a different kind of organization or company, we’d love to hear how you center voice and choice in your culture. Join the conversation over on Linkedin.

When we meet families where they are, we all win

Wearing earrings that said “Young, Black, and Educated” and walking across the stage to  accept my diploma from Salem State University, I felt awash in pride and heard my mom cheering loudly from the crowd.

I knew that this accomplishment wasn’t mine alone — my mother had put in 22 years of hard work to make this moment possible. Every sacrifice she made, every dollar she spent, it was all building toward this moment. 

I see this same relentless determination and willpower in many of the teens and parents I work with at Camp Harbor View. I work as the Community Resource Coordinator here, and just about everyday I see a mom or dad who remind me of my mom — simply doing everything they can so their kids can thrive. It’s so rewarding for me to be able to help families that remind me of my own, and I wanted to share a few of the lessons I keep coming back to as I strive to support folks as completely as possible.

1. Start with an open mind
Families know and feel that our support comes without judgment, and they learn quickly that we’re ready to show up for them through thick and thin. We don’t just offer support in certain ways or during certain hours — we’re here to meet families where they are. Once we establish with a family that we’re 100% committed to meeting them where they are, the work and relationship building becomes almost effortless.

2. Understand cultural differences and varied needs
Although families experience similar struggles, not every family “struggles” the same, and not every family needs support in the same way. When supporting anyone, it is important to make resources equitable, attainable, and fitting for each person.

3. Commit to building long-term relationships
Everyone comes in with their own life experiences. With each family that I work with, I know that it will take time to build trust and relationships. As a mother myself, I know this firsthand. The one thing that I keep in mind is a simple old lesson I got from my mother; always work to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Relatability comes with effort, listening, and practicing that very principle in each interaction. 

It is the mission of Camp Harbor View to open new doors to opportunity, and I am proud to be part of that mission. The families that I work with never cease to amaze and inspire me and I am proud to support them along their journeys. 

With the growth of our family service programs, I know that I will only continue to learn more from our amazing community, and I could not be more excited about the road ahead. 

Like so many of our campers, I found my voice at CHV

In December of 2001 I was in front of my 6th grade class, presenting for the first time. I kept my eyes cast down to the floor and held my notes in front of my face, quietly reading them. Speaking in front of my peers terrified me.

Today, some of my coworkers would be surprised to hear that about me. Especially the coworkers who have seen me on stage on a camp morning singing my favorite camp song, Princess Pat, or attempting to play “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars on the ukulele at the staff talent show.

Our campers first start at Camp Harbor View the summer before 6th grade. Many of them are as shy as I was at that age. Now, add in a ferry trip to an island with 249 other kids that they don’t know and activities like sailing and rock climbing that they may have never experienced.

Since joining Camp Harbor View in 2018, I’ve met several CHV alumni who describe the 6th-grade versions of themselves – the first-time camper versions – as shy. Meeting them now, you would never expect these young people to have ever been described as shy. They’re bold and confident, sharing their ideas and thoughts without hesitation.

At Camp Harbor View, with the help of caring staff, they find their voice. Their confidence. It’s where I found mine.

Although I’ve been working at summer programs since I was 18, there was always a part of me that was the shaky 11-year-old version of myself, quietly presenting on Christmas traditions in Belgium. Under the leadership of Executive Director Lisa Fortenberry (and my caring staff), I’ve found my voice at Camp Harbor View by being challenged every day.

A few days into camp, the shy campers have met their peers and group leaders and the shell begins to crack. Our group leaders provide campers the support they need to make new friends and try new things. At the climbing wall and on the high ropes course, you hear camper and staff voices alike call out encouraging words. At the pool, you hear the gentle instructions from lifeguards as they show campers how to blow bubbles in the shallow end or perfect their diving form in the deep end.

Our staff provides a space for young people  to safely take risks, which in turn helps them to grow into themselves, building confidence and finding their voice. By the end of their session, they might perform in the talent show. And maybe in a few years, when they turn 18, they’ll lead the morning camp song.

Camp Harbor View joins national movement, launches guaranteed income pilot with UpTogether

50 Families will receive $7,000 per year for two years

Boston, MA – A group of Boston families are the newest champions for the impact of direct cash investments on social and economic mobility. Camp Harbor View recently launched a near $800,000 guaranteed income pilot, in partnership with anti-poverty nonprofit UpTogether, that provides 50 Boston households $7,000 each year for two years. These families are able to use the funds however they choose and do not need to pay it back.

After just five months, families are reporting greater overall financial stability. A participating parent, who wished to remain anonymous, says the program is having transformative effects on her physical and mental wellbeing as well as her financial stability.

“As a single mom, I have worked two jobs for the last six years to make ends meet. With the GI grant, I have been able to focus on my full-time job,” she said. “The time I’ve gained back has improved my focus, given me more time with my children, and allowed me to participate in professional development, which led to a promotion.”

Rooted locally, Camp Harbor View is committed to addressing the pervasive racial and economic opportunity gaps that exist in Boston.

“This pilot is about trusting and empowering families,” Camp Harbor View Chairman Jack Connors, Jr said. “I believe this will prove to be an innovative and necessary approach to partnering with families, ensuring that economic mobility is possible in our city.”

Each of the 50 enrolled families receives $583 in unrestricted cash monthly for the duration of the 24-month pilot. The participants were asked to set at least one financial goal at the start of the pilot and then they are given surveys quarterly—along with a small group of families who are not receiving funds—to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. To measure the efficacy of this two-year pilot, Camp Harbor View engaged an experienced independent evaluator to collect data and study outcomes.

The results from the pilot will have an impact beyond Boston.  In partnership with the Economic Security Project, the Camp Harbor View learnings will be part of a growing body of national research on guaranteed income programs.           

“As someone who lived in Boston for 17 years, and still loves the city, I am beyond excited to see the impact this pilot will have on families here,” said UpTogether CEO Jesús Gerena.  “At UpTogether, we know it’s not just about the impact of unrestricted cash investments on individual households, but most importantly, the exponential impact those dollars will have on entire communities.”


About Camp Harbor View: Camp Harbor View works with 1,000+ young Bostonians and their families each year offering a one-of-a-kind summer camp for kids in grades 6-8, year-round leadership development for teens in grades 9-12, and comprehensive family services, including college and career planning, scholarships, clinical support, and food access — all at no cost to families.

About UpTogether: UpTogether is a community, a movement, and a platform that highlights, accelerates, and invests in the initiative people in financially under-resourced communities are taking to improve their lives and move up, together. Using compelling data and personal success stories to transform stereotypes, beliefs, and policies, UpTogether champions the effort to boost long-term economic mobility in communities that have been under-served for far too long.


Making the season bright [video]

From Thanksgiving dinner to gifts at the holidays, this annual tradition seeks to alleviate family stress and bring kids joy. It’s one of our most meaningful programs for families and donors alike, with both experiencing the generosity of spirit in the holiday season.

Take a look at this heartwarming video to see the Camp Harbor View community’s holiday celebrations with over 400 families from start to finish.

Thanks to the generous support of hundreds of donors, partners, and volunteers, we doubled the number of families reached this year, distributing $101,800 in gift cards for parents to use to purchase their children items on their wishlist, bins with household essentials, and festive holiday supplies. Happy Holidays for all of us at Camp Harbor View!

A guaranteed income program for a stronger Boston

In August of 2021, Camp Harbor View proudly partnered with UpTogether to launch a two-year guaranteed income pilot with 50 Boston families. The $735,000 program, which provides no-strings attached payments of $583 per family each month, is one of the largest funded by a community-based organization nationwide. 

A decade’s worth of peer-reviewed evidence shows that guaranteed income is a uniquely powerful tool in supporting families as they achieve upward economic mobility. This pilot program seeks to improve families’ emotional and physical health — as well as their economic security — by pairing direct income with community connections and resources. 

“Guaranteed income is a transformative tool to promote social and economic mobility and long-term financial sustainability. We are excited to partner with 50 Boston families in this pilot, while also contributing to the growing body of research nationally about guaranteed income,” Lisa Fortenberry, Executive Director of Camp Harbor View said. 

Camp Harbor View’s partnership with UpTogether — a national nonprofit that highlights, invests in, and accelerates the initiatives people in historically under-resourced communities are taking to improve their lives and move up, together — began in 2019.  The next year, the two organizations launched a Covid-19 relief fund that offered families emergency funds via direct transfer.  Over the past two decades, UpTogether has invested more than $135 million in guaranteed income payments to households in all 50 states, nurtured deep community connections, and proved that this strength-based approach can be a catalyst to drive long-term economic and social mobility. 

This pilot program runs through mid-2023, and the Camp Harbor View and UpTogether teams are working closely with families each week as they build community, listen, learn, and support one another. 

The Camp Harbor View team is excited to share more updates and to work with other partners in Boston to invest more deeply in the families that will be the future of our city.  If you’d like to discuss, please reach out to our team.

A Summer of COVID — Three lessons on leadership from the most challenging summer of my life

Friday, August 13th, 2021 8:15 PM — My phone rings. On the other end is a parent in our program at Camp Harbor View. “I’m calling to let you know that I’ve tested positive for COVID-19, and my daughter will not be returning to camp”. 

The call set into motion our protocol of contact tracing and quarantine. The camper had minor symptoms and recovered quickly, and we avoided further cases on our campus in the Boston Harbor Islands. In looking back, this call represents the kind of moment so many of us have faced over these past two years — challenging us to make quick decisions, with compassion and safety in mind, and to continue serving our communities amidst difficult circumstances. 

1. How you practice and prepare is how you’ll play the game: I have always prided myself on setting up effective systems. I have learned, through trial and error, that this is so important to success in every facet of both personal and professional success. Part of this, I must acknowledge, comes from being diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age and having to build systems that worked for my different way of learning (I actually do not see it as a disability, more as a badge of honor that says it is okay to be a little different).

This summer was a completely different beast. Preparation began around the holidays, giving us a six-month runway to develop systems and structures to serve hundreds of unvaccinated people on an island in Boston Harbor. I was tasked with leading our COVID protocols (or, as my staff would say to get a laugh in, the “COVID Czar”). We spent countless hours — with our internal team and external doctors, nurses, and engineers — mapping out scenarios, from testing practices to what we would do in the event of a positive case. Our 35-page playbook was the lifesaver that led to only two positive cases all summer, with nearly 500 people coming to and from every neighborhood in the city.

On my last call with our epidemiologist, she said, “Two cases with that many people, are you kidding me?” to which I replied, “nope, we started preparing for this in January, and I’m glad it paid off.” This process served as a helpful reminder that how we prepare is how we will perform in every aspect of work and life.

2. It’s always about the one-on-one connection: I have worked with many leaders who focus on impact numbers first. I get it, it’s what we are held accountable to as leaders and managers. I remember being a 22-year-old manager at City Year, with 95% of my brain focused on the data, ensuring that our dashboard looked good quarter over quarter, year over year. I’ve changed over the years, no doubt. While I am still driven by results, my approach has evolved.

This summer was a helpful reminder that so much of our work’s success as leaders is grounded in building a foundation and developing genuine connections with the people we lead. If we do this well, we drive greater results for our organizations by creating a culture of connection that brings out the best in our people. Coming out of quarantine this summer served as a helpful reminder that we have to be intentional about this every day and in every interaction.

On a 98-degree day, one of several brutally hot days on the island this summer, I sat down for lunch with one of the young leaders in our program. With that kind of heat, you could not find a person on the island who wasn’t either frustrated or exhausted (or both!). This turned out to be the most impactful conversations that I’ve had in a very long time. We talked about everything from Kobe Bryant to the worries of being a senior in high school. We also spoke about the organization, and I asked my usual range of questions aimed at trying to understand how we are doing as an organization and where we need to be better. One line that has stuck with me from her was, “Josh, people have to feel something to be led by another person, without connection, you got nothing.”

It all starts with that one-to-one connection — and this summer in the trenches of leading through COVID, that mattered more than ever. The young people in our programs never cease to amaze me, or in this case, teach and remind me of the things that matter and make me the best version of myself.

3. People may disagree with a decision, but a lack of clarity is far more detrimental to the success of the team and the organization. On the second-to-last day of camp, we were hit with the most challenging moment of the summer (and likely of my professional life). We had a positive COVID case the prior week, the second of the summer, and we had successfully executed our contact tracing and quarantining plans.

Around 10 a.m. on the last day, the nurses paged me over the walkie. I walked into the office. “What’s up?” I said. “Two kids with symptoms, inclusive of fevers and sore throats.” “You have got to be kidding me. We made it the whole summer, and now this?”. I collected myself, of course, and thanked the team. Our leadership team quickly circled up, and I explained the situation. Looking around that room, we all knew what we had to do, the unpopular yet best decision—pull the plug on camp a day early. We scrambled to communicate and tell staff, executing all of this in about two hours.

I remember walking to the parking garage that evening and turning to my dear friend and colleague, Lisa, and saying, “Did we just ruin the summer for these kids? They didn’t get any closure”. Her response was something that I will never forget—”We may have just prevented an outbreak. We were clear and decisive, and people will look back on that knowing that we did things the right way”.

And this call also represents three lessons on leadership that became clear throughout the challenging — and wonderful — summer of 2021. I took time this fall to reflect on these key lessons.

As we look ahead to 2022, challenges no doubt will still come our way but the experiences and lessons from the summer of 2021 will last a lifetime and they have prepared us for whatever lies ahead. 

Partnering with Boston families [video]

At Camp Harbor View we believe that it takes real relationships with the entire family to fully support Boston’s next generation. In this video you’ll meet Paula and three of her kids — Lereca, Bryan, and Gyara. They’ve been part of the Camp Harbor View family for over ten years — and their story shows how powerful we can be together when we invest in Boston families.

Camp Harbor View seeks to impact racial & economic inequality in Boston

At Camp Harbor View, we often ask ourselves if we’re doing enough. Are we doing enough for our campers, Leaders in Training and staff? Are we doing enough for the families of the youth we serve?  About six months ago, we decided that the answer to the last of those important questions was “NO.”

When the Boston Globe published its recent series on racial income disparity in Boston, one of the stunning statistics shared was that the average net worth of families of color in the city is $8.00.  That’s not a typo – $8.00.  Camp Harbor View has always been committed to promoting equity and opportunity in Boston, but this series stirred our desire to do more. Encouraged and supported by the Board of Directors, we decided to begin with Camp Harbor View families; to learn from them about the obstacles and hurdles they face with respect to economic mobility and to work with them to design pilot solutions to some of the most intractable problems they encounter.

We have taken the first step by engaging the services of the consulting team of Turahn Dorsey and Reverend Mariama White-Hammond to lead us through a process of information-gathering with families and LITs from our program, and then to work with family representatives and an advisory board composed of corporate leaders to create short and long-term solutions of varying size and scope.

Racial and economic inequality has long been the norm in Boston.  We know that we cannot fix a problem of this magnitude, but we believe that we might be able to have an impact on at least a small group of families.  Perhaps that grows into something more substantial and perhaps we will create a model that can be replicated.  We realize this is a tall order, but we feel a deep responsibility to the families who have placed their trust in us, so we’re off and running.  We’ll keep you posted.

Meet the interns keeping us healthy

Two Camp Harbor View alumni are interning this summer at local healthcare organizations. Check out Q&As below with Megan Michta & John-Michael Louis.

Megan Michta
Megan Michta
  • 10-week internship at MGH Liver Center
  • Rising Sophomore at UMass Amherst
  • Studying Public Health & Environmental Science

How long have you been a part of Camp Harbor View?

 I started attending Camp Harbor View as a camper when I was 11 years old and have participated every year since then – over 9 years now! In this time, Camp Harbor View made me the hard worker that I am today.

What are the most valuable lessons you learned during your time at Camp Harbor View?

I really appreciate that Camp Harbor View instills strong leadership values into all campers and staff. It’s so refreshing to see and hear young children discussing respect, courage, responsibility, character, and community. As a camper, I never thought much about it, but as a Leader in Training and staff member, I realized how important it is to talk about leadership with kids and shape them into active and engaged members of not only the Camp Harbor View community but also their own families, neighborhoods and schools.

What are you doing this summer at Mass General Hospital?

My internship at MGH combines my interest in public health and my love for patient care very well and it’s very exciting because it’s my first job in medicine. I’m learning about different liver diseases as well as researching what factors could be contributing to them and how they could be reversed.

How has your time with Camp Harbor View prepared you for this opportunity?

At camp, I challenged myself to be the best version of myself so that I could be a role model for my campers. I also learned to adapt and stay calm in stressful situations. The caring and patient nature working with the kids at camp has transitioned into effectively communicating with patients and treating them with respect and kindness. The healthcare field is intertwined between many different people – doctors, nurses, research coordinators, EMTs, insurance companies and more. The communication and teamwork skills I learned at camp are a great foundation for working in healthcare since there needs to be constant communication about patient care.

What have you learned so far through this internship?

Working in clinical research has allowed me to explore many different parts of medicine, including: going on rounds with the hepatologists, shadowing weight loss surgeries and liver biopsies, aliquoting blood samples, screening clinic schedules, going through patient charts and learning about the research process and institutional review board (IRB), and much more!

What’s next for you?

This summer I have decided that I have definitely found my place in the world through medicine. Nothing excites me more than hearing about a new clinical trial that is working to treat a disease or seeing doctors in the Emergency Room save lives. After I graduate, I’m excited to pursue a Master’s in Public Health and then eventually my MD!

John-Michael Lewis
John-Michael Louis
  • 12-week internship at Madaket Health
  • Rising Junior at UMass Lowell
  • Studying Computer Engineering

How long have you been a part of Camp Harbor View?

For eight years! I first had the opportunity to be a camper then a Leader in Training and then a member of the summer staff.

What are the most valuable lessons you learned during your time at Camp Harbor View?

Leadership and inclusivity. I met all sorts of people when I came to camp as a boy. I learned how to build relationships of all kinds and made lifelong friends. At Camp Harbor View I grew to be a man.

What are you doing this summer?

This year, through Camp Harbor View, I received the opportunity to intern at Madaket Health, a healthcare tech startup in Cambridge that is working on streamlining, automating and reducing errors in the Medicare system. This is my first internship and I didn’t know what to expect going into it. From day one at Madaket I’ve felt welcomed and included in the community. The work we do at Madaket is very much team-based and requires a lot of communication – similar to camp.

How has your time with Camp Harbor View prepared you for this opportunity?

At camp, I learned how to lead by example while also building up those around me. In the professional setting, this allows me to receive feedback well and act on it. On the island I also learned to take initiative in anything I do despite not knowing the outcome – taking that risky first step goes along way regardless of where I end up. Whether it was on the rock wall or swimming for the first time, Camp Harbor View really prepared me for uncertainty and taught me how to rise to the occasion in new situations. I’ve used this in meetings to find the courage to speak up and share my point of view.

What have you learned so far through this internship?

This summer internship experience has opened up a world of opportunity for me. Personally, it’s shown me what type of job, company and work environment suits me best. On a broader scale, I’ve learned about the structure of large corporations vs. startup companies and working on both the front- and back-end of the Madaket system has given me a new appreciation for potential impact of coding, artificial intelligence and software development.

What’s next for you?

This internship has reconfirmed that I want to get a job in coding and software development after I graduate. I’m so grateful to Camp Harbor View for connecting me with Madaket. I may not be at camp this summer, but I’ve definitely taken my Camp Harbor View experience and relationships with me. Not only did the program shape who I became but it’s shaping where I’m going.