Inspired by the outdoors, 3 Maine girls launch nonprofit to send kids to camp

Good News Notes:

When summer camp options were limited last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, middle-schoolers Elle Foley, Sophia Turker and Emma Bowden, all of Falmouth, attended a six-week photography camp hosted by a friend’s parent. There, they learned the basics of photography, meeting a couple of times a week and taking excursions to local sites to practice their skills. 

After the camp ended, however, the girls wanted to continue building on those skills and use their photos to spread appreciation for the state’s natural beauty. 

“At the beginning, we didn’t know what we were going to do with these photos. … We had a long process of deciding what to do,” said Bowden, 13, a student at North Yarmouth Academy. “We decided that we would share the beauty of Maine through these photos with other people.”

The trio eventually settled on selling their photos – in the form of notecards and calendars – to raise funds so that other kids could have the opportunity to have their own summer camp experience. They named their operation Gratitude for Maine and decided to donate the proceeds to the Susan L. Curtis Foundation, a nonprofit that operates Camp Susan Curtis, a tuition-free residential camp for Maine children facing economic hardship. 

“We’ve sort of developed our mission statement a lot since the beginning, but right now it is to let all kids in Maine have the opportunity to attend summer camp,” said Foley, 12, a student at Falmouth Middle School.

The girls have had some help from the adults in their life. Foley’s mother, Courtney Rycyna, serves as their mentor and drives them to the post office to ship their products, and Foley’s stepfather, a software engineer, helped them set up a website to conduct sales. A neighbor who is a lawyer helped them apply for nonprofit status.

Mostly, though, they’ve divided the work between themselves. Foley – who describes herself as “not shy” – handles marketing, sales and web design. Bowden, a strong math student, is the group’s accountant, and Turker, who enjoys being creative, designs the products using Snapfish, a photo printing service. They’ve all continued to take photos throughout the past year, stopping whenever inspiration hits.

“Sometimes we go and pick (the spots for photos),” said Bowden. “But a lot of times we just are out exploring Maine and we’re like, ‘Wow, this is a good photo.’”….

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