Written by Mark McHugh
The sun blazes over a landscape marked by dirt paths, green clearings, and trees that spatter the ground with shade. Lifeguards watch over second-graders frolicking in the lake while a fifth-grader shoots a bulls-eye at the archery range. A few acres away, counselors catch their breath trying to keep up with the kids in a friendly game of soccer. There are kids and adults of all ages and backgrounds but, if you look around, you’ll see that the one thing they all share is quite simple: a smile.
Where can a child have the time of his/her life while meeting lifelong friends and learning unique skills in the process? You guessed it: summer camp.
If you’re hesitant about sending your kid to camp this summer, here are five reasons why it might be the best decision you’ll ever make:
“It’s one giant family,” said Bri Desfosses, an Assistant Director and Unit Leader at the YMCA’s Camp Sargent in Merrimack. “The feeling of belonging and the feeling of fun and excitement make camp one of the best experiences of a child’s life.”
Camp is an opportunity for a kid to form meaningful relationships outside the sphere of school and home. It encourages kids who might have a hard time making friends to reach outside their comfort zones and have positive social experiences. And for the social butterflies, camp is a paradise.
“My kids have their friends during the school year but every summer they really look forward to meeting up with their camp friends and they talk about them all year round,” said Lynne Boyer, the Director of the Merrimack YMCA’s Camp Create. “The kids really look up to the staff as role models and they’re talking about them all year long, too.”
“They’re learning, it’s just not textbook learning,” said Randy Menken, the Camp Director at Camp Sargent. “They’re learning new skills – it might be sports, it might be learning how to swim, boating … They’re learning about who they are in the world.”
Josh Schupak, Director of Camp Spaulding, the YMCA’s overnight resident camp, seconded that notion.
“I think what camp does best is it helps a kid discover who they want to be on their own.”
Each YMCA camp has something different to offer when it comes to hands-on education. Camp Sargent teaches kids various outdoor skills like archery, boating, low-ropes, and even how to care for farm animals. Camp Spaulding teaches kids independence, decision-making skills, and basic survival skills. Camp Quest, the teen camp at the Nashua branch, emphasizes inclusivity, leadership, and relationship-building while providing a support system amidst the complex and tumultuous adolescent years. The Merrimack branch’s Camp Create and Sports camp, along with the Young Explorer camp, cap off a diverse offering of programs which yield real-life learning through activities that don’t involve a textbook or a desk.
To a staff member, there is nothing more rewarding than witnessing the growth of a camper. Camp is the perfect opportunity for a child to overcome fears, acquire unique hobbies, and become a more passionate, caring, and enriched human being. The counselors witness the emotional and mental growth of children every day.
“The staff that come back here year after year truly and whole-heartedly believe in what they’re doing and have a passion for it,” said Menken.
That passion is fueled by the progress they see in the campers.
“We had a child who was on the autism spectrum … His mom had put him into our fiber arts program,” said Boyer. “One of the things they had learned was hand-knitting, or arm-knitting … She came in one day in tears and she told us how he always had a difficult time going to bed at night. It was really hard for him to transition from a busy day to winding down … He learned the arm-knitting in camp and he started doing that at bedtime as his routine. They would do that together and he would fall asleep right away.”
The diverse activities offered at the Y camps have an impact far beyond the facility.
One of the YMCA’s central tenants is promoting a healthy lifestyle. Mental, physical, and emotional health are all deeply integrated into each of the summer camp programs. Whether it’s staying in shape, unleashing creative instincts, or fostering healthy relationships with peers, your child will come out of camp a healthier, happier person.
“Everything we do and implement as far as programming goes has the four core values in the center,” said Menken.
Those values are respect, caring, honesty, and responsibility.
“Throughout the day we have recognition beads that the kids can earn for doing things that fall within the four core values.”
Within the Y summer camp community, the “bead system” is a hit, and is integrated in different ways in several of the camps. The kids are able to to tell you which color corresponds to which value and actively strive to earn beads every day. They collect their beads on a necklace and often take pride in wearing it daily.
The hope is that your child will come out of summer camp with a strong sense of positive values and will understand how those values translate into real-life actions.
If you would like to learn more about the YMCA of Greater Nashua’s summer camp programs, you can view all of our camp options here.
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