Pi Kappa Phi team from Push America assists Camp Allen in Bedford

Seventeen fraternity brothers from Pi Kappa Phi, founded in 1904, visited Camp Allen in Bedford, June 29 to July 3, to assist people with disabilities, on behalf of Push America, the fraternity’s national outreach project – a philanthropic program in place since 1977.

Camp Allen, 56 Camp Road, is the first of eight summer camps the group visited. Their carpentry and construction skills were honed at a comprehensive training session held earlier in Concord.

The frat brothers wielded drills, hammers, brushes and many other tools to complete tasks ranging from clearing the camp’s nature trails to building wooden structures for the camp’s new sensory garden. The garden is especially soothing to campers with autism who prefer respites in quiet places with soft colors.

Mary Constance, the camp’s executive director, said that Camp Allen is popular with families whose youngsters or adult relatives are coping with physical or developmental challenges. A contingent of summer-camp counselors, many of whom return year after year, nurtures the campers, as does Constance’s son, Michael, who is the summer camp director.

Constance, who said her application for the group’s services was accepted with little delay, praised the young men, residents of many states and attendees of a variety of colleges and universities, who accomplished so much in such a short time.

“They have not stopped,” Constance said of the fraternity brothers. “They’re sleeping in tents, donated by Boy Scouts in Bedford. They start working after breakfast and at night they’re sharing their time with the campers and taking part in all the evening activities.”

Campers enjoy swimming, nature studies, arts and crafts, and themed gatherings that include dance parties, pirate nights, visits from a magician and other diversions. Adult camps and youth camps, held separately during the one-week, or, sometimes, two-week sessions, showcase age-appropriate activities. Brighly lit cabins, a spacious dining hall and other amenities abound.

Push America member Daniel Rucker, 18, a student at the University of Oregon and a resident of West Linn, Ore., said his affiliation with the fraternity has brought him the experience of working for the good of those whose lives can be made easier through his investment of time and physical labor.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Rucker said. “A lot of the campers are excited about seeing us here. They ask questions. They come to know us.”

Staffers, parents, guardians and friends, sometimes backed by generous investors, have since 1931 supported the camp, operated in its early days by the Boston Lions Club. Later, the Boston Kiwanis partnered with the Lions Club in Manchester to continue the tradition.

The camp initially was a haven for blind girls. The mission eventually expanded to encompass individuals of all ages who live with developmental or physical challenges.

Push America, according to pushamerica.org, focuses on abilities, teamwork, empathy and integrity. Participants are fraternity members from across the nation.

Rett Abner II, 20, a Jacksonville, Fla., resident who will be a junior at the University of North Florida, said it was rewarding to see how quickly the campers embraced the brothers’ efforts to assist in making the camp even more user-friendly.

“We’re getting to be members of their culture,” Abner said. “You can tell they’re glad we’re here.”

Nick Julian, 23, a resident of Bedford, Mass., and a University of Massachusetts at Amherst student, said the group is going up and down the east coast – Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to be of service clearing trails, painting, building, doing repairs or undertaking any number of other jobs.

“It’s been a fantastic experience,” Julian said. “We’re making friends with people of all kinds.”

David Straka, 20, who lives in Munster, Ind., and is a member of Pi Kappa Phi at Ohio State University, agreed with his fraternity brothers. He said he has grown in his understanding of those with disabilities.

“We are focused on discovering abilities, not disabilities,” Straka said. “When you’re in this environment, where everyone has a disability, it’s a discovery of friendship and of abilities.”

Mary Constance watched as the last of the day’s nails and screws and pieces of wooden trim were added to the pergola that now graces the sensory garden. She said she would always welcome return visits from the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi – the team from Push America. She said that their contributions will not be forgotten.

“If they love us, as much as we love them, they’ll be back,” Constance said. “They’ve been just great.”

For more information on Push America, visit online: www.pushamerica.org. For information on Camp Allen, visit: www.campallennh.org.