South Charlotte

Need child care for holidays? Try camp

It's an early December morning at the Harris YMCA on Quail Hollow Road in SouthPark, and the office of John Weeks, camping and family services director, is like a Christmas stocking stuffed to overflowing with treats.

Weeks' office brims with arts and crafts materials and other camp programming supplies, all part of preparations for the branch's holiday camp later in the month.

Camp isn't just for summer anymore. The purpose of holiday camp is to provide a safe, fun and enriching day-camp experience for children in kindergarten through eighth grade, when school's not in session near the winter holidays but parents still need to report to work.

Weeks says last year's holiday camp averaged about 65-80 campers per day at the Harris branch.

The concept of holding camp in December isn't unique to the YMCA in Charlotte.

Discovery Place also is hosting winter-break camps for children, with themes like Egyptology, mummies and pirates, according to a recent museum news release.

Activities at the Harris YMCA recall traditional summer camp, but with a winter twist.

For those who pass a swim test, there's time in the water, complete with a newly installed slide - in a heated indoor swimming pool.

Other events have a distinctly cold-weather feel, such as an ice-skating field trip and lessons in making hand-dipped candles.

While there are plenty of things for campers to do at holiday camp, it may seem less regimented, since there are fewer children than in warmer months.

"I would say that our holiday camp is probably a little more laid back than what our summer camp is," said Weeks.

For holiday campers who also attended summer camp this year, many camp counselors' faces will be familiar. Weeks anticipates the return of high school and college students who have worked for him previously as counselors.

Weeks says his responsibilities include everything from assisting with check-in in the morning to playing games to driving an activity bus.

"It's never the same. Every day is different. Every day creates its own opportunities and new experiences," he said.

Camp names are a lighthearted part of camp culture at the Harris Y.

Weeks, a Jimmy Buffett fan who likes the Caribbean region, goes by the moniker "Coconut."

He says campers delight in trying to learn his real name. Even after they find out, most elect to call him by his camp name.

"It's more fun than 'John,' " said Weeks, 38.

Weeks has worked for years at YMCA camps and in youth sports in Wisconsin, Illinois and Virginia, but says it's only in Charlotte that he acquired a camp name for the first time.

Holiday camp is slated for Dec. 19-23 and Dec. 26-30; parents may register their child in as many or as few days as they wish and do not have to be YMCA members. Fees vary.

There are no plans to curtail registration after camp has started.

The camp does adhere to strict counselor-to-child ratios, however.

"As long as I have enough counselors, we'll take kids," said Weeks.