From Youth Volunteer to Lifelong Commitment: Meet Steve Cartwright, the dedicated board member and volunteer managing the annual half marathon at Blueberry Cove

Steve Cartwright, UMaine Extension volunteer
Steve Cartwright

In the world of volunteering, there are individuals who go above and beyond, dedicating their time and energy to making a lasting impact on their community. Steve Cartwright, a volunteer at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Blueberry Cove 4-H Camp and Learning Center, is one such individual. From his first visits to camp around the age of five, Cartwright’s passion for Blueberry Cove has endured throughout his life. Now, at 72 years old, he continues to play a vital role as a board member and organizer for the annual half marathon at Blueberry Cove, leaving an indelible mark on both the event and the lives of those involved.

“Blueberry Cove has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Cartwright says fondly. “Sometimes I am at a loss for words to explain how special this place is for me. So many happy times. It taught me the value of hard work, responsibility, and giving back to the community.”

Born and raised in New York City, Cartwright’s journey with Blueberry Cove began at a young age when he participated in various camp programs. His parents were close friends of camp founders Bess and Henry Haskell, and the Cartwrights’ summer cottage is located just down the road from the camp. During his late teens, Cartwright spent three joyful summers as a counselor at Blueberry Cove. Through weeklong overnight camp stays and community service projects, he quickly developed a love for the organization’s values of leadership, responsibility, and community engagement.

“We had a lot of inner city kids, kids of color. It was the first interracial camp in the state,” he says. “It was a place where kids can blossom. It was a place where kids can learn cooperatively, learn together.”

During his time as a counselor, 60 campers would stay for 8 weeks in big army tents on platforms with cabin names like “barnacle and periwinkle.” Cartwright says camp life was filled with activities like boating and music. Many of the counselors were talented singers and musicians who could play the guitar and banjo. The songs were often improvised on the spot, creating a joyful and lively start to the day. Blueberry Cove became an official 4-H camp in the 2010s, but its essence and spirit has remained remarkably similar throughout the years.

“I will never forget how at the end of summer we were all standing around the end of the season fire, holding hands, singing ‘We shall overcome,’” he says. “The feeling of holding everyone’s hand – campers, staff, director, everybody – all singing together. It is the world we want. Peace.”

As part of the 4-H philosophy, the camp garden played a significant role in providing participants with an abundance of fresh ingredients for their daily menu. Cartwright says staff and campers would use whatever was available and ripe, harvesting vegetables, herbs and fruits. Additionally, campers would venture out to the seashore to gather mussels and on occasion dig for clams, fish for flounder and pollock, and collect periwinkles for a feast day.

“The rule was you had to take a tiny taste,” Cartwright says. “It was a way to introduce kids to raw vegetables and try new things.”

In a groundbreaking moment at Blueberry Cove in 1980, Cartwright exchanged vows with his wife, who was also a camp counselor, in a wedding ceremony that took place overlooking the serene waters. The occasion marked the first wedding at Blueberry Cove, creating a cherished memory for all who were present. The camp has since hosted many weddings, retreats and meetings.

In 2011, Cartwright saw an opportunity to combine his commitment to Blueberry Cove with his passion for running. He proposed the idea of developing a half marathon as a fundraising event for the organization. With the support of fellow volunteers, community members and two of his running friends, the annual half marathon at Blueberry Cove was born. Over the years, the event has grown in popularity, attracting participants from near and far, all eager to support the camp and experience the scenic beauty of midcoast Maine.

As the event director, Cartwright’s responsibilities are vast and varied and, for him, satisfying. From coordinating with volunteers and ensuring the safety of participants, to seeking contributions of food, he is the driving force behind the success of the half marathon. His attention to detail, organizational skills, and dedication have earned him the respect and admiration of all involved.

“When I proposed the idea of organizing a half marathon as a fundraising event for Blueberry Cove, I never imagined it would grow to what it is today,” recalls Cartwright. “But with the support of other volunteers and community members, we made it happen. It’s incredible to see how the event has evolved over the years and how all of us together can have an effect.”

Beyond the logistical aspects, Cartwright’s impact on the community through the annual half marathon is immeasurable. The event not only raises crucial funds for Blueberry Cove and its 4-H programs but also fosters a sense of camaraderie and healthy competition among participants. It brings together individuals and families of all ages and backgrounds, creating a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere that embodies the spirit of 4-H.

“Steve’s dedication to Blueberry Cove is truly remarkable,” says Megan Moroney, program coordinator at Blueberry Cove 4-H Camp and Learning Center. “His passion and volunteerism shine through in every aspect of his life. We are lucky he is part of the community that makes Blueberry Cove strong.”

As Cartwright reflects on his many years of involvement with Blueberry Cove and the annual half marathon, he is filled with a sense of pride and gratitude.

“Blueberry Cove has given me so much and I am grateful for the opportunity to give back,” he says. “Blueberry Cove feels magical to me. It’s a special time of bonding, making memories that will really last a lifetime. It connects you with nature, connects you in a way that is away from technology, away from distractions. It is really life changing and it will help you gain valuable skills that will carry through life as you go.”

Volunteers at Blueberry Cove bridge the gap between the camp and the University of Cooperative Extension. They share their knowledge and expertise with campers, helping them develop important life skills. In addition, volunteers build meaningful connections with campers, serving as mentors, role models, and friends. Their commitment to the 4-H values of leadership, citizenship, and teamwork enriches the camp community and creates lasting memories for campers. Volunteers are at the heart and soul of Blueberry Cove and other 4-H camps, making a significant impact on the campers and the overall success of the camps.

“Volunteerism is a powerful force, and I believe that each person has the ability to create a positive change,” he says. “Just like a camp doesn’t happen without staff, volunteer work doesn’t work without volunteers. You won’t regret volunteering and it feels good being connected with something that is so worthwhile.”

Looking ahead, Cartwright plans to continue managing the event for as long as he can, ensuring that the annual half marathon at Blueberry Cove remains a cherished tradition for years to come.

“I am happy to keep doing it. I hope that my dedication and passion for Blueberry Cove and the annual half marathon inspires others to get involved and make a difference. Kids are our future,” says Cartwright. “Seeing the positive impact on young minds and witnessing their growth is the greatest reward.”