From August through the end of December 2009, Fair Haven Camps in Brooks raised $130,000 in donations, nearly half it from gifts of less than $1,000. To be sure there were some large gifts: a $50,000 matching gift came from a former camper; another woman who had spent a single week there as a child gave $20,000; and a church gave $10,000.

Donations came from members of the camp’s parent organization, local churches, parents of campers and camp alumni. Together, they allowed Fair Haven to bring its main lodge into compliance with the state fire code and correct a number of other deficiencies cited by the state fire marshal. According to General Manager Dave Sheldon, the fundraising feat was just the latest in the string of providential occurrences that has kept the camps going since the 1950s.

A new heating system, with a donated propane boiler, was installed in the main lodge, as well as an outdoor wood boiler, which will be the main source of heat in the winter, when camp facilities are rented to various groups.

In addition, the lodge’s exit doors were made to open out rather than in, a handicapped ramp is being added, and a stairway sheet rocked and enclosed. Egress windows were added on the second floors of several of the camp’s 54 buildings. The next project, Sheldon said, is to install a sprinkler system in the lodge, for which the camp must raise roughly $45,000.

Besides the new propane boiler, other in-kind donations have included the architectural and engineering work for the renovation project, which is being donated by a firm owned by a former camper, Sheldon said. He added that other non-cash contributions, from refrigerators to labor to a couple of golf carts used by camp staff, have been donated over the years.

Fair Haven is actually divided into two camps: one for boys on the east side of Lake Passagassawakeag — known to the timid of tongue as Randall Pond — and a girls’ camp on the west side, which contains most of the 270 acres comprised by the camp, including the main lodge. There is a total of 25 cabins, and facilities for the usual camp activities, from crafts to horseback riding to water sports; there’s also a ropes course with a 300-foot zip line.

Though their accommodations are separate, Randall said girls and boys are together for many athletic activities, as well as meals and chapel. The camp is Christian, but non-denominational, he said; and while chapel and scripture study are part of the daily program, counselors model that “Christianity is relational, not religious.”

The goal of the camp is to introduce young people to Christ, but not to force anything on them, he added, saying members of most Christian denominations, and even “non-church kids” would be comfortable at the camp.

Sheldon himself spent his formative years at the camp, as his parents were among the three couples that founded Fair Haven, purchasing the boys’ camp, including a portion of the lake, in 1950. The camps, including most of the present buildings, were originally built in the 1920s, he said. The girls’ camp was bought in 1958.

He had lived in Seattle and worked at a shipyard there for 23 years before returning to Maine in 2002 and getting re-involved with the camp. At the time, the camp’s board of directors asked him to become its interim general manager, and, “I’m still here,” he said.

Sheldon wants to increase camp enrollments: he said back in 1990s there were as many as 1,400 campers in a summer, but the number of campers has dropped sharply since then, with 2008 and 2009 being the lowest years for a long time — attendance those two years was in the low 600s, he said. His goal for 2010 is to have 750 campers over the seven weeks of camp, which begins June 29. To increase the camp’s reach, Sheldon wants to hire someone to do marketing and public relations, and hopes to receive donations to support such a position, he said.

A week of camp, Sheldon said, costs $250, which covers everything except paintball; that’s an extra $20 for any camper who wants to take part. In addition, the camp offers scholarships to youngsters who need financial help to attend.

Enrollments have been affected by a number of things, he said: last year, when Swine Flu was in the news a lot, camp registrations stopped, picking up some later in the summer. He thinks the economy has also depressed enrollments some. He added that changing trends in how recreational time is spent mean the camp has to adapt to the interests of today’s youth: “We can’t force them to walk the Appalachian Trail,” he said.

The camp has tried various types of specialty camps for a week or two at the beginning of its season. Perhaps the most popular of these has been a horse camp that has drawn a lot of girls, he said.

Overnight campers range in age from 7 to 17; 6-year-olds can come for day camp. Senior counselors must be over 18 and many of them are college students from all over the United States, Sheldon said. Juniors and seniors in high school can be junior counselors. Unlike in days past, activity leaders must now be certified in their activity, he said.

Reflecting on the comments of campers, Sheldon said he thinks the camp is special to them, and added that many of them say their relationship with Christ started at Fair Haven.

He said he planned to retire in about two years, when he turns 62, and open the way for a younger leader to take the camp to the next level. “The potential of this setting and this organization are untapped,” he said.