READFIELD — Just before 12:30 on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, Julia Clukey doled out vegetables to the girls who waited patiently in the lunch line. When the camp has your name on it, you do whatever it takes to make each day run as smoothly as possible. At lunch time, that meant Clukey served food.
It’s the Julia Clukey Camp for Girls, and Clukey was in the middle of everything.
“I learned there’s never as much time as you think there’ll be,” Clukey, an Augusta native, said.
When everyone had been served lunch and Clukey had poured glass after glass of milk, she found time to join a group of campers and have a sandwich.
“How many camps do you do,” a girl asked.
“This is the only camp I run,” Clukey said.
Another camper offered a critique of her experience.
“Hey, Julia, this is the best camp for girls in the world,” she said. “Boys will always mess it up.”
Another camper offered her opinion, too, simply hugging Clukey, with no words spoken.
This is the second year Clukey has organized and operated her Camp For Girls at the Kennebec Valley YMCA camp on Maranacook Lake. Ninety-eight girls ages 8 to 12 signed up for this summer’s two week session, which ends today. Approximately 95 showed up each day. Thanks to a number of central Maine businesses, 45 percent of the campers received some type of financial aid in paying the $350 cost of the camp, and 37 campers had their fees paid in full.
The camp is designed to promote self-confidence and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Tucked against the wall of the hall in which many of the activities took place was Clukey’s luge, a reminder of the sport that enabled Clukey, 28, to found the camp.
After recovering from surgery for the congenital condition Arnold-Chiari Syndrome that limited blood flow to her spinal column, the 2012-13 season was Clukey’s best so far on the World Cup tour. Clukey won her first World Cup silver medals at Lake Placid, N.Y. in February. Clukey finished sixth in the overall World Cup standings, just ahead of her teammate, Erin Hamlin.
Clukey won her first national championship this past season and plans on competing for Team USA at the Winter Olympics next February in Sochi, Russia. At the Vancouver games in 2010, Clukey finished in 17th place.
At camp, the Olympics took a back seat to being a positive role model. Instilling self-confidence in the campers is Clukey’s main goal, and like many teenagers, it’s something she struggled with.
“When I started high school, I was already pretty strong and muscular, when not a lot of high school girls aren’t, and it made me self-conscious,” Clukey said. “I want them to become strong, confident, powerful young girls. I want them not focusing so much on what you look like, but what you can do with your bodies.”
Clukey said she sees a change in some of the girls who attended last year’s inaugural camp.
“Girls who were very young last year, I see them more confident this year,” Clukey said. “I hear a lot of positive remarks. Often in the community, I’ll get pulled over and someone will say ‘I’ve heard nothing but good things about your camp.’ ”
Clukey’s sister Amelia, two years older, works as a counselor at the camp and isn’t surprised by what her younger sister has accomplished.
“She’s very determined. She’s very passionate. It’s unique to find somebody in their late 20s with such a strong sense of community,” Amelia, a seventh grade teacher at Hall-Dale Middle School, said. “Any way she can help influence them and be a positive role model, she’ll do it. More so since our sister died.”
Olivia Clukey, the youngest of the three Clukey sisters, committed suicide three years ago. The memory of her sister is one of the things that drives Clukey to be a role model.
“I want to make sure no young girl ever feels like that, like suicide is an option,” Clukey said.
Each morning of camp, each of the three groups gets a half hour of what’s called Julia Time. That’s when Clukey sits and talks with the campers and that’s when she passes on her positive message. They discuss building self-confidence, setting goals and body image.
“I try to hit them from all angles,” Clukey said.
Julia Clukey’s Camp for Girls is a day camp, with the exception of the final Thursday night, when the campers spend the night. The plan was for everybody to sleep in tents on one of the camp’s fields, but with rain in the forecast, that was questionable, and sleeping inside was an option. Either way, Clukey was ready for a night of songs and activities.
“It could be madness,” Clukey said.
The positive message begins even before campers officially arrive. When you turn off Route 17 onto the winding dirt road that brings you to the camp, you are greeted by signs. They say things like “I will be happy” and “I will be confident.”
On the way out, there are more signs, but this time, each starts with “I am.”
The final sign is the most important one.
“I am me,” it reads.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242