Uncle Dean’s enduring vision of hope
Nobody gets much sleep on the first night of Camp Hope.
The children giggle, run around in the dark — and complain about bugs.
“The girls inevitably start screaming that there are roaches in their tents,” said Dean Furbert. “Sometimes there are, but often there aren't any at all and I have to go in there and pretend to kill bugs to get them to go to sleep.”
Since 1969, he has been chief bug killer and, at times, cook, mentor and counsellor at the camp, where he's known as “Uncle Dean”.
The 82-year-old started the two-week summer programme with a group of friends from the brethren faith, Mark Robinson, MacDonald Tucker, Charles Robinson and Gladwin Packwood.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for the children to have structured recreation, enjoy the outdoors, and learn more about the Bible and Christianity,” Mr Furbert said.
“I think it's Bermuda's first summer camp and the longest running. We're starting to see former campers' grandchildren and even great-grandchildren coming through.”
There were very few organised activities for children in Bermuda 49 years ago. Then a teacher at St George's Secondary School, Mr Furbert was aware of a growing camp movement in the United States.
“The churches would do some picnics, but that was basically it,” he said. “The other founders all had children who had been at home in the summer until we started the camp. They really looked on this as an opportunity for their children.
“My daughter stayed home for the first year, and then came the next year. Then all my children came as babies. I can remember my son strapped to his mother's back.
“The camp was for seven to 16-year-olds, but we made a policy that if workers had young children they could bring them. We created accommodation for them. We really wanted it to be a family atmosphere.”
The camp's structure has remained basically the same for almost five decades. Campers spend two weeks, usually on Ports Island, swimming, boating and doing arts and crafts. They also hear Bible stories and talk with counsellors about their faith.
Paul Ross was there at the start. He remembers there being a definite spiritual message, but also plenty of fun and mischief.
“I was a smart-aleck,” the 60-year-old recalled. “I was the type of kid who put my hand up for every question.”
He didn't realise this was getting on his fellow campers' nerves until he woke one day, his face covered in toothpaste.
“It happened to me right at the end of my camp experience,” the accountant laughed. “I thought I had it down by then, and thought it was safe to go to sleep.
“I definitely think my life was changed by going to Camp Hope. It is a hard world out there and you to have something to believe in.”
The camp also introduced children to Bermuda nature at its finest. Mia Williams, 27, still remembers finding a wolf spider in her tent when she was ten.
“It was late at night and I was so scared,” she said. “I woke everyone in the tent up with my screaming.”
She can't remember who helped but thinks it was probably “Uncle Dean”, her favourite counsellor.
“I said: ‘Listen I can't do this! I need you to kill this spider. It needs to happen now!' He did kill it.
“He was really like a mentor. I felt like you could really talk to him about anything. He wasn't judgmental. He didn't make you feel like what you were saying was silly. He was awesome. I think he taught me how to play cricket.”
The men agreed to run Camp Hope like a family with campers calling the adults “aunt” and “uncle”.
“The parents always come to visit on the Friday of the first week,” said Mr Tucker. “I remember one little girl was supposed to go home with her family, but she didn't want to go. She cried and said she wanted to stay with us.”
The 87-year-old, who was last involved with the camp five years ago, saw children change a great deal in the forty-odd years he helped out.
“We had to adjust our strategies to deal with that,” he said. “Some required discipline and we had to be wise in doing it. Some of the children would want to fight and be contrary.”
Sometimes just sitting down with campers and talking over issues helped.
“Sometimes it didn't,” he said.
A breakdown in family structure is at the root of many of the problems, Mr Furbert believes.
“Children left to themselves and not being nurtured is a form of abuse,” he said. “They grow up not feeling at peace with themselves. The camp environment is the closest you can get to living at home in a family. The children have to learn to trust the people who are there to take care of them. It is amazing how it doesn't take long for children to make that connection. Love begets love in quick order if it is genuine. Our camp has been a loving camp.”
Transportation was a challenge in the early days with lots of back and forth in “a small boat”.
“We had bedding, chairs, benches and even a small golf cart,” Mr Furbert said. “You name it, we had it.”
The directors eventually bought a 53-foot boat that had been pulled out of Hamilton Harbour. They spent a year painting and scraping it, before naming it New Hope.
“It served the camp well for many, many years,” he said, adding that Government helps out with transport these days.
Early on there was an average of 90 to 100 campers each year, today's numbers have dwindled to between 50 and 60.
“There are fewer campers today, partly because there are other camps now,” Mr Furbert said. “And also, people are having fewer children.”
Anton Daniels, Steven Powell and Christopher Sabir have joined Camp Hope as directors. Mr Furbert, the last remaining original committee member, is now thinking about retirement although he was helping out as a counsellor this summer.
“I'm not young any more,” he laughed.
• Camp Hope has released a commemorative calendar in honour of its 50th anniversary next year. To purchase: firstname.lastname@example.org or 293-0035. To register for the camp or for information on its 2019 celebrations visit hopeministriesbermuda.org or follow Camp Hope Bermuda on Facebook