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Mayhew Program: 50 Years of Helping Boys

Published Tuesday Aug 7, 2018

Mayhew Program campers in the early 1970s. Courtesy photo.

For almost a half century, the Mayhew Program in Bristol has been bringing at-risk NH boys to the 35-acre Mayhew Island on Newfound Lake for a summer camp aimed at helping them find the best in themselves and putting their lives on a track for success. Knowing that this takes more than a summer, the program has evolved over the years to pair campers with a mentor to help with issues they face once they return home.

This summer marks the 50th session of the nonprofit that has helped more than 2,300 at-risk boys since its inception, providing them with the support and guidance to live by the program’s ideals: responsibility, respect, community and challenge. The program serves about 245 boys annually.

A group of campers preparing to row in 2017. Courtesy photo.

“The key thing we try to teach the boys, primarily through role modeling of staff, is living by those ideals, and at same time none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. The key thing is how do you own those mistakes,” says Executive Director Jim Nute, who has been part of the program for 25 years. “These are great guys, but many are coming from situations where they don’t see that or they have a hard time believing that. They have seen or heard only what they can’t do or what they are struggling with. Mayhew’s job is to provide them with as many opportunities and challenges to help them realize what they have to offer and what they capable of.”

Only boys who are 10 or 11 can enter the program. Most come from homes with single mothers and are in need of a positive male role model, which the Mayhew Program provides. And more than 75 percent of the boys come from families who live at or below 150 percent of the poverty level. Most are referred to the residential camping program by schools and social service agencies. “Many of them are referred because they are struggling. They don’t know how to make friends. Many of them are getting into fights or somehow struggling in other ways socially or behaviorally,” Nute says.

The Mayhew Program works with these boys and young men in three phases. The first is aimed at boys 10 through 12, who attend a 25-day residential summer program. There are two summer sessions each year, each hosting 42 boys. During that time, the boys participate in challenging activities, receive praise for achievements, guidance when they need it and the opportunity to establish a new reputation.

During daily work hours, boys work together on projects to earn “Mayhew money”—the Island currency, which they can spend at the Mayhew Market. The 14-18- year-olds, who work at the camp, can get a 100-percent match on their earnings for college tuition.

They also participate in a variety of daily athletics, crew rowing, adventure challenges, high rope courses, hiking, swimming, art, cookouts and other skill building and social activities. They are assigned a mentor for the school year.

“A Mayhew staff member gets together with two Mayhew boys at a time, and they go sledding, or grab a pizza or play chess.

Campers eating together on the island. Courtesy photo.

As much as possible, we try to get the guys outside,” Nute says of the monthly two-to-three-hour mentoring visits. “A lot of valuable informal counseling happens during those times. When boys are having a really tough time, we will see them as often as we can.”

Between ages 12 and 16, the boys participate in Mayhew’s Link-Up program, which offers more intense summer adventure options, increased community service and school year mentoring. The final phase of the program is the extension program for high school juniors and seniors, which focuses on community service and the preparation for college or career. These services are provided tuition-free for all eight years.

The Mayhew Program is a 2018 recipient of the Eleanor P. Eells Award, a national award, for “developing effective, creative responses to the needs of people and societal problems using the camp environment.”

“It’s reaching out to boys who are great kids who need a little more extra support to realize that,” says Nute.

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