For Ashton Espinal, it’s the little things that make summer camp great.
The surprise pizza parties counselors throw when campers behave well on field trips. Rousing games of capture the flag and basketball. The twice-weekly trips to the pool where the boys tease the girls by cannonballing into the water right next to them.
Ashton, a 12-year-old rising seventh-grader from Rock Hill, attends camp at the Boys & Girls Clubs of York County’s Teen Center, a program that started last summer to meet the needs of the county’s middle and high schoolers.
Ashton attends the camp on a scholarship from the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund, which sends children from low-income families in the Charlotte area to day and summer camps. Ashton is one of 206 children who are attending camp this year thanks to reader contributions and corporate donations. The fund is in its fifth year.
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Ashton’s mom, Grisel Olan, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic 12 years ago, says she’s grateful that Ashton has a place to go where the games and activities are assigned for older children. Her younger son, Jose, a 7-year-old, rising second-grader, attends a Boys & Girls Club camp for elementary school-aged children.
The Teen Center, which also has after-school hours during the school year, is housed in the Renaissance Academy, a “flexible learning center” run by the Rock Hill public schools for kids who don’t do well in a traditional public school. Kids like Ashton who attend the Teen Center come from a variety of schools in York County.
The Teen Center, a joint program by the Boys & Girls Clubs of York County, the York County Solicitor’s Office and the Department of Juvenile Justice, is aimed at keeping kids active and learning, says Sara Blancke, director of club services for the Boys & Girls Clubs of York County.
When the Teen Center launched last August, organizers estimated that about 30 kids would attend. The numbers grew to more than 100 during the school year. This summer, more than 70 middle and high-schoolers are attending camp there.
Summer camp tuition is $400 for middle schoolers and $200 for high schoolers. Tuition covers breakfast and lunch each day, activities and sports at the camp site, field trips and transportation to community service projects. Field trips have included outings to the movies, to a Duke Energy power plant, roller skating and a laser tag center.
Once kids reach high school, their activities expand even further.
Campers are taught skills such as how to change a flat tire, write a resume and succeed in a job interview. They learn about vocational training and talk about what kinds of jobs or colleges they want to pursue after high school graduation.
Last week, 15 high school campers and four staffers took a three-day trip to Atlanta to tour Spelman, Morehouse and Morris Brown colleges, as well as Georgia Tech.
“Kids just need a positive place to go. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how big your house is or what kinds of jobs your parents have, all kids will find their own type of recreation (if unsupervised) and some kids won’t choose the most positive behaviors,” Blancke said.
She said summer camp at the Teen Center “isn’t about babysitting. It’s about getting them an opportunity to develop and practice skills they need to learn how to do to give back to society.”
Ashton says he wakes up every morning excited to go to camp.
“It’s really fun because there are more mature kids there,” he said. “We go there so we’re not bored in the house.”