If kids aren’t swimmers when they come to the Johnston YMCA’s day camp, that will change during the time they are here.
“We swim for an hour every day,” said Lindsay Lowry, financial development director at the Y that’s in the heart of NoDa.
Some campers have never seen a pool – or any body of water – until they come to camp. It can be intimidating.
Swim instructors give every camper an assessment at the start of camp, and each camper gets a colored wrist band indicating where he or she is allowed to go in the pool.
While swimming is a big part of the experience, it’s far from the only thing campers do. There are lots of nature-themed activities, arts and crafts, dance, scavenger hunts, cooking classes and free time on the playground.
“We get back to basics here,” Lowry said.
During swimming, water safety is paramount. Mecklenburg County has the highest rate of drowning deaths of any county in North Carolina, Lowry said, even though it is not a coastal county.
“It’s so important that kids are confident in their ability to swim and know how to save themselves if they should get in trouble,” she said.
Counselors want campers to have fun in the water, while maintaining a healthy respect for it.
No one’s forced to get in the pool. “We want everyone to have a great experience,” Lowry said. “If a child is too afraid to get in the water, a staff member will sit on the pool deck with them. We want kids who are reluctant to swim to see how much fun everyone’s having in the pool.”
The strategy always works, she said.
Since 2009, the Observer Summer Camp Fund has raised over $1.5 million and sent more than 3,000 children from the area to day and sleepaway camps. This summer, more than 500 kids will attend 33 camps.
Three campers are headed to the Johnston Y camp on an Observer scholarship.
Kids of all ages (pre-school through teen) can attend camp, and it’s open to more than just Y members. Anyone can come – for one week or the entire summer.
The Johnston Y camp offers convenience for working parents who need something enriching for their kids to do when school’s out. Its urban setting is handy for parents, but it doesn’t prove a drawback for kids.
“We’re a small branch, and there’s not a lot of nature around us,” Lowry said. “But our staff does a phenomenal job of working with what we have. Fostering a love of nature is part of what we do here.”
One way they’ll do that this year is by taking teen campers on a field trip to a recycling facility. Pre-school kids will get the same “Love the Earth” message back at camp as they learn about environmental stewardship.
But the most important thing kids learn to do at this city camp is how to swim. It’s a skill that will last them a lifetime.