by Clark Judge.
(May 5, 2022) — Of the more than 700 donors who contributed to save Deer Lake from a private developer, one stands above the rest – which is ironic, considering that donor stands no more than four feet high.
Meet Maeve Browne. She’s 9 years old, a third-grader at Killingworth Elementary School and the unlikely face of a local fundraising campaign to protect and preserve the Deer Lake Scout Reservation as open space.
“I’m so proud of her,” said her mother, Katie Browne.
She should be. It was Maeve who, against all odds, last week put into action an idea to contribute to the Save Deer Lake campaign, wound up raising $2,659 and became the star of a Channel 8 newscast about the property’s future.
In fact, when a group of fundraisers met shortly after that broadcast aired, it didn’t open by addressing the progress of donations. It talked first about Maeve Browne and the impact she made with one TV appearance.
“The kids were proud of her, too,” said Dennis Reed, principal at Killingworth Elementary School. “They thought she was a celebrity.”
Maeve lives within walking distance of Deer Lake but had no connection with the 255-acre property outside of occasional walks there with her family and two rat terriers. But those hikes made such an impression that when she first heard Deer Lake was for sale, she admitted “shock” and resolved to do something.
The only question: What was that something?
“One of those things that’s bigger than us”
“I never thought that such a pretty property could actually be getting sold,” she said. “So, maybe a week later, we were in the car coming home from an activity, and I asked my Mom, ‘Could I do a fundraiser to save Deer Lake?’ ”
She hadn’t done one before. She had to do one now. Her mother agreed.
“It’s like one of those things that was bigger than us,” Katie Browne said. “It had gotten to the point where I felt so hopeless about it that seemed like nothing short of a Hallmark movie miracle could get this done.
“But I’m a true believer in that it doesn’t matter how old you are … or how rich or poor. Every person can make a difference if you put your heart into it. In my heart, I always said: No, there’s always something that can be done. If she’s motivated to do this, she should know that she can try to make a difference. I’m just glad she was motivated.”
After considering her options, Maeve decided on a Pajama Day at school to raise money. In essence, everyone – students, teachers, administrative staff, even Dennis Reed himself – would be asked to wear pajamas on April 28 (KES Pajama Day) and consider contributing to the Save Deer Lake drive.
“Any contribution is appreciated,” Maeve wrote on a hand-made poster entitled “Operation Deer Lake.” After gaining clearance from Reed and District 17, flyers were sent home, pajamas readied and local news teams alerted by someone (nobody still knows whom) that a unique fundraiser was underway in Killingworth
“I was blown away by her determination,” said Reed, “and how put-together her thoughts and proposals were.”
“This is what we teach”
Then last Tuesday arrived, and so did the news crews. Maeve’s father found a note that afternoon attached to the front door of the Brownes’ home, asking to interview his daughter. He contacted his wife, who drove to the school … gained permission to pull Maeve out of class for 20 minutes … and stood by as her daughter charmed her TV audience.
“When I picked her up,” her mother said, “she said, ‘Are we going to the doctor? I said, ‘No, you’re going to be on the news.’ She said ‘What?’ I don’t think she has a full grasp of the reach and inspiration she’s had on people.”
She should now.
“I didn’t know that I would get that far with this,” Maeve said of the interview. “I was kind of like … scared … but I was excited at the same time.”
Later that day, she watched herself on TV.
“So, what did you think?” she was asked.
“I was happy and proud,” she said. “Sometimes older people underestimate kids. The next day one of my best friends ran up to me and said, ‘Thank you for saving my camp.’ ”
That hasn’t happened. Not yet. More fundraising is needed before Pathfinders, Inc., a local nonprofit trying to buy Deer Lake, can be approved for purchase by its owner, the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boys Scouts.
But Maeve Browne’s work is complete. She wanted to make a difference, and she has – becoming an inspiration for a grassroots movement that one conservation director described as “astounding.”
“This is what we teach,” said Reed. “It’s part of the fabric of our community. We teach how to help each other. We teach there’s more out there than just yourself, whether you’re helping a friend who’s in need on the playground or taking something big out to the community and making an impact.
“What’s remarkable about this, though, is the passion that’s behind it. If there’s one child out there with that much passion, imagine how many people feel that way about the property.”
Photos by Clark Judge.