Lake Norman & Mooresville

This camp makes civics lessons fun

At the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics Center recently, summer campers got an education on local government during Independence Day Camp.

To some, that sounds uninteresting and brings back unpleasant thoughts of memorizing titles, roles, job descriptions, hierarchy, protocol and formalities. Thanks to Dee Jetton, interim director of children's services at the center, and team member Crystal Smithers, campers had hands-on fun all week long.

Jetton wanted the week of Independence Day to be a chance for kids to learn the real meaning of this holiday. “Holidays lose their meaning,” said Jetton. She is right. Easter becomes all about the Easter Bunny. Thanksgiving is about football, Christmas about presents – some giving but mostly getting. “Independence Day becomes about fireworks,” Jetton added.

During an election year, she wanted this year's camp to be extraordinary. After surfing the Web for ideas, Jetton came across “The Democracy Project” developed by PBS for the elections in 2004. Jetton was inspired by that project and used it as a model for Independence Day Camp.

Crystal Smithers took the idea and developed the HFFA curriculum, paying attention to every detail ensuring the week would be a creative, interactive, fun and inspiring experience. Jetton added, “Crystal took the ideas and wrote the curriculum, bringing it to life in a way where each age group will be able to take away something significant and memorable from this experience.”

Campers spent each day learning about government, how a local city or town operates, the people who govern the town, and who else is needed to support the town. Kids also learned how government affects them, what it might be like to be president for the day, and voting rights and the power of one vote. Jetton wanted kids to understand that their vote counts, their voice matters – and that is the American way.

Jetton and Smithers were able to rally the community around this project. “We have had incredible community support, especially during a busy holiday week. It is great that we have so many public servants willing to participate,” Jetton said.

On the second day of “Independence Day Camp” local civic leaders and government officials came to visit campers and talked about their jobs and how they affect the town of Huntersville. Campers got to hear from Jeremy Adams, a certified nurse assistant at Mercy Hospital, and Jenni Ward from Lakeside Family Physicians.

North County Regional Library Senior Manager John Zika was also present. Huntersville Town Manager Greg Ferguson spoke to the kids, as did several police officers.

Campers' eyes widened and jaws dropped when Ken Lucas was introduced. Currently a Huntersville town commissioner, Lucas sits on many town committees and works closely with the Huntersville Police Department. The former Marine Corps intelligence officer was also a member of the FBI.

When the kids heard FBI, the gasps were audible. Lucas had their full attention.

He talked about how Independence Day is important because it reminds us we have the right to vote. The power of the vote is important to Lucas because he is an elected town official and relied on votes to become a town commissioner.

The Huntersville Fire Department also showed up with one of their fire trucks, which was also a big hit. Campers spent the rest of the week building their own city based on what they learned. They drew, painted and built their city out of cardboard boxes. Preschool campers conducted a patriotic parade through the new town. Elementary-age campers had a traditional cookout. It was a great way to end Independence Day Camp.

For more information about HFFA summer camps, visit www.hffa.com or call 704-766-2222.

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