ELLSWORTH — Camp POSTCARD, a camp for “deserving children,” which was the brainchild of Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane, is in its 25th year this summer.
The “postcard” stands for police officers striving to create and reinforce dreams, Kane said.
Police officers, deputies, troopers, dispatchers, corrections officers and game wardens all converge on the weeklong camp to create a fun experience for children. The campers swim, fish, play sports and relax.
“We want them to be kids,” Kane said. “Some of these kids come from households where they’re cooking all their meals. They shouldn’t have to do that at 10, 11, 12 years old.”
The children, who are usually recommended by law enforcement officers for the camp, attend for free. Whatever gear or clothing the children might need, a swimsuit or sneakers, is provided.
“Some of these kids show up with their things in a garbage bag,” Kane said. “Whatever they get at camp is theirs to keep.”
“We pay for everything,” he said. “Transportation to and from the camp, the physicals needed to go.”
A byproduct of the camp is campers see that law enforcement officers are people too.
“They see police officers running around in shorts and T-shirts and going swimming,” Kane said. “I think a lot of them don’t think we’re human.”
There are about a dozen children per cabin with two to three leaders. They try to have both men and women leading each cabin.
“A lot of these kids are from single-parent households,” Kane said. The children may not always be comfortable dealing with both men and women, he said.
The camp started with a $10,000 grant for the Maine DARE Officers Association from Irving Oil, where reserve deputy Fred Ehrlenbach had been working at the time.
Kane had been working with children in classrooms as the county’s DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer. His then best friend, Trooper Christine Buchanan, also had been teaching DARE.
Former Sheriff Bill Clark got the Maine Sheriff’s Association to put up funds.
The location of the camp changes. That first year, the camp was held at Camp Roosevelt.
“We tried to get 100 kids,” Kane said. “We had 94.”
“We didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” Kane said. “We did know we wanted to help kids.”
“As we went along we got better,” Kane said. The number of campers usually tops out at 150.
This summer, a dozen of those campers were Hancock County children. Recommendations come from DARE officers. Hancock County Deputy Luke Gross and Ellsworth Police Officer Shawn Merchant each recommended six children this summer, Kane said. This year the camp was held in Poland at Agassiz Village Summer Camp.
Funding for the program is raised each year by Volunteers of America, which has been involved since nearly the beginning. The organization sifts through the recommendations for campers to decide who can attend.
County jails supply some food, what they can, from limited jail budgets, Kane said.
Midweek, there’s a demonstration day where the campers can explore cruisers and watch police dog demonstrations.
That day, all of Maine’s sheriffs attend, if they aren’t already there working as counselors, to serve the kids lunch.
The week ends with a closing ceremony.
“The camp leaders bond with these kids and it’s tough,” Kane said.
Kane still runs into former campers he recommended who are now adults.
“They’ll say thank you,” he said.
Camp POSTCARD has expanded into Jackson Hole, Wyo. Volunteers of America asked Kane to give a seminar on how to run the camp.
“I’d like to see it all over the country,” Kane said. “It’s a great thing.”
The volunteer organization also held a Camp POSTCARD in Belize for two years but that ended for lack of funding.
Kane and his wife, Rose, were counselors for the Belize camp.
“Talk about kids who don’t have anything,” Kane said. “And polite; they were probably the politest group I’d ever been with.”
“They were polite kids, but they were cutthroat,” which a game of Beano revealed, he said.
Kane and his wife were counselors for three sisters in Belize who had no father. At his wife’s encouragement, the sheriff let the girls paint his fingernails, which brought the girls more joy than he could have imagined.
“Anything you do, it’s what you make of it,” the sheriff said. “I think we’ve done a great job in Maine making it a first class deal.”
To sponsor a camper or donate to the program, contact Michael Coon at Volunteers of America, 373-1140.