Kids go ‘unplugged’ at Stanly County YMCA camp

06/23/2012 12:00 AM

06/24/2012 12:04 AM

It’s muggy at the Stanly County YMCA’s day camp on Glen Street in Albemarle.

Counselor Travis Furr, 21, sits in the grass holding a garden hose while filling a basket with water balloons.

Keeping count is 7-year-old Christopher (“almost 7-and-a-half,” he says), wearing a red Nike T-shirt, jean shorts and a thin leather necklace strap with colorful beads – rewards for good character.

“We take our bead necklaces pretty seriously, don’t we, Christopher?” asks Furr.

“Oh yeah,” says Christopher, who lists what each bead stands for. Yellow for respect. Green for responsibility. Black for Bible-verse memorization. Blue for swimming.

The beads are positive reinforcement and symbols of what the camp teaches: outdoor fun, life skills, literacy and the Bible.

“Camp is my favorite time of year,” said Denise Crockett, family services coordinator for the Stanly County YMCA. “I love the excitement of the kids, whether they’re painting with pudding, flying a kite or splashing in a pool with a giant beach ball that’s bigger than them.”

The weeklong day camp – for children in kindergarten through sixth grade – is a recipient of The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund, which raises money to send children from low-income families to camp.

The Stanly County YMCA received $2,400 this year. Depending on whether the camper’s family has a YMCA membership, it costs $120 to $142 to attend the camp for a week.

The camp has two locations. The larger one, with about 80 kids a week, is at The Pavilion across the street from the YMCA building. A smaller group of about 20 kids from the west side of town hold camp at Locust Elementary School.

The Pavilion features an indoor center for crafts and storage and fields for organized play. Beside the fields is a large, fenced-in “All Children’s Playground,” that was built with a $100,000 donation by the Albemarle Rotary Club.

The camp theme this year is “Project Unplugged,” with the goal to show campers how important it is to play outside, make friends and learn.

Split by age group, the campers and counselors play “Sharks and Minnows,” “Capture the Flag” and a game called “Duck, Duck, Splash,” which always soaks the kids and counselors. They spend the afternoon, when it’s hottest, in the YMCA’s indoor pool.

Some of the campers on scholarships have never been in a pool, Crockett said, so they get 45-minute swim lessons each day.

The campers also take weekly field trips to a bowling alley or skating rink.

Crafts – the messier the better, said Crockett – range from kazoos and popsicle-stick sailboats to homemade guacamole. In July, they’ll add yoga and Zumba dance.

The campers also learn about community service.

“They’re picking up trash at the playground, picnic area and community,” says Crockett. “We’re teaching them ... how everyone has to pitch in.”

Once a week, counselors lead campers to the public library across the street, where they can read along with the counselors or explore the stacks on their own.

Counselor Jennifer Windham, 35, teaches fifth-grade at Millingport Elementary during the school year.

This summer “I could have gone to Belk, and they probably would have hired me,” said Windham. “But my heart’s with the kids.”

Windham’s favorite aspect of the camp is its spiritual encouragement. She likes teaching the kids about Jesus, Bible verses and the importance of prayer.

“The kids’ praying ... touches my heart,” she says, wiping away tears behind her sunglasses. “If it sounds so sweet to my ears, think how sweet it sounds to God’s ears.”

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