Portrait of a Summer Camp

From aerial shots to action shots: how the camp that Jack built came to be

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Boston Harbor Islands’ Long Island, 2007. Image courtesy of the City of Boston

Our latest client, Jack Connors Family Office, approached Three Bean Press to produce Camp Harbor View’s stunning 2016 Annual Report. Now, we knew of the legendary Boston ad exec Jack Connors and his fathoms-deep generosity, but we didn’t know about the crucial first steps of his ambitious philanthropic enterprise. Coincidentally, another client of ours, Bill Brett, was involved and filled us in on the initial details. Brett loves to tell a good story and we love to listen. And when the ending’s this good? We just have to share….

Roughly ten years ago, Jack Connors called up photographer Bill Brett on a Monday with an assignment. He wanted Brett to go up in a helicopter, fly over the Boston Harbor Islands and take aerial pictures of Boston’s Long Island, from end to end. Connors would need the images for his meeting with the mayor, Tom Menino, that Friday. Brett wasn’t told why, but he was told not to discuss the job.

It was a cold day in November, remembers Brett. Still, he flew over the harbor’s icy waters—helicopter door removed—and aimed his camera lens at the land below. He wanted to give Connors unobstructed shots.

There wasn’t much on the 225-acre island owned by the City of Boston, save for an array of rehabilitation and social service facilities. There was, however, opportunity. Brett and the pilot were curious as to the point of their mission, the pilot perhaps most of all.

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Camp Harbor View 2015

“What do you think they want to build there?” the pilot asked. Brett was careful not to respond. His best guess was that Connors was interested in building a casino, he reveals, his eyes bright at the idea.

Brett brought over 100 pictures of Long Island up to Jack Connors’ office by Thursday. Connors unveiled them one by one the next day during a car ride with Mayor Menino out to the harbor island. Connors didn’t typically sit in the back of the car, but he did that day. The mayor wasn’t told where they were headed. What was this? A hit?

It wasn’t a hit; it was a proposition. It was Jack Connors’ solution to the mayor’s earlier appeal, when Menino approached the former CEO of Hill Holliday to say that Boston needed to find an answer to teen violence, particularly during the summer months. Youths were either being kept indoors and shielded from the brutality of the streets or subjected to it. Menino didn’t like either option. Nor did Connors.

As they drove across a steel bridge to arrive at their destination, Connors pointed to Fort Strong, an ex-Army base that was now abandoned, on the tip of the island. He said to the mayor: “If you will lease this property to me for one dollar a year, I will raise 10 million dollars and build you a summer camp.”

CHV.AR2015The mayor agreed. Six months later, Camp Harbor View was born. Connors raised well over the $10 million and built a world-class facility that both delights and empowers 900 young adolescents from Boston’s at-risk neighborhoods.

Nine years since the camp’s founding, sadly, Mayor Tom Menino has passed, but his legacy hasn’t. There are new pictures to look at, this time by Boston photographer Michael Casey. Unlike Brett’s, they were taken in the warmth of the summer and depict smiling campers and the Camp’s leaders in training. The site is the same, but the two sets of images are worlds apart. There is, undoubtedly, one element they share: promise. Take a look….