For campers young and old who have ever been involved with the Talbot County Department of Parks and Recreation Summer Youth Program, it is hard to imagine a summer camp without the leadership of Henrietta “Chic” Harrison. This year, Harrison retired from a job she held for over 35 years.
What began in the 1970s as a Talbot County Parks and Recreation Summer Camp Program for 35 kids at the Oxford Community Center, quickly expanded to a camp held at the Chapel Elementary School in Cordova. The camp then moved to the Talbot County Community Center in Easton, before finding its current home at Easton High School, where attendance has peaked over the past three years to 175 campers.
Children in kindergarten through eighth grade participate in the summer camp each year. For parents who need summer care for their children, the camp promises a safe and fun environment for kids to be kids. According to Harrison, who coordinated the camp over the years, “The parents are so appreciative of having this option while they work.” She adds, “And, it is very affordable, costing only $40/week.”
Harrison can testify to the number of families who have generational campers come through the program. She comments, “Not only do kids come back year after year, but I saw parents and grandparents who I had as campers bring their children and grandchildren to participate.”
Part of Harrison’s interest in developing a camp was to provide a place to keep kids safe, happy and busy during the summer months. The camp’s program was built upon the foundation of six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. Harrison states, “We wanted to offer more than just a fun camp experience – we wanted to make a difference in the campers’ lives.”
Talbot County Department of Parks and Recreation’s Summer Camp, which originally ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. has expanded its hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering before and after care for working parents. During the seven weeks that the camp runs each summer, campers enjoy swimming twice a week at the Easton Community Pool or the St. Michaels Community Pool and learn a new sport every week. Weekly trips around the region have included attending Shorebirds games, bowling, and visiting Tuckahoe State Park. On Fridays, the camp offers a special event, such as a Pass, Punt and Kick event, a Bike Rodeo, or a Crafts/Game Room activity.
Harrison, who has played sports all her life, including volleyball, softball, and basketball, adds, “We tried to get them outside as much as possible and to introduce them to a new sport, which is an important part of the recreational experience we provide.”
She comments that her own family has a recreation spirit, with her grandchildren having attended the Parks and Recreation camp only to come back as counselors.
Harrison’s community spirit extends beyond her job at Parks and Recreation. She has scored numerous baseball games, helped the Talbot Humane Society, the Board of Food Service, the United Way, the American Heart Association, and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. In 2004, she was voted as one of Maryland’s Most Beautiful People by former Governor Robert Ehrlich.
Rick Towle, Director of the Talbot County Department of Parks and Recreation, comments, “It is very likely that I will never work with anyone more unique to her community than Chic Harrison. She is truly a person you meet once in a lifetime.”
Towle explains that Harrison is especially appreciated by her colleagues and the community because the vast majority of her efforts over the years were in an unpaid capacity, with no expectations of being paid.
When asked why she did it all these years, she answers simply, “I did it for the kids. It was especially rewarding when they would come back and tell me about their accomplishments in life. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Harrison adds, “It doesn’t seem possible all these years have gone by. I have come to realize how important this camp is to the parents, the community, and the campers. It is an institution now in our community.”
What Harrison doesn’t realize is how much the institution misses her this year as summer camp resumed without her.
Harrison, who lives in Easton with her husband Ned, is looking forward to retirement and spending time at home. She has three grown children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.