It was an ordinary, sunny Tuesday morning. By 8 a.m., most people on the South Coast were well into their daily summer routines – work, errands, childcare.
But for 17 lucky youngsters, the day was anything but ordinary. By 8 a.m., the campers in Puente’s YMCA Day Camp program were already dribbling basketballs as fog threaded though the redwoods at Camp Jones Gulch in La Honda. They were already well on their way to a day of nonstop fun, part of a two-week session with their favorite counselors and activities, soaking up the best of summer.
After that, they walked to the Sustainable Living Garden and spent an hour with organic crops, chickens and fruit trees.
“We made art out of stuff in nature – like rocks and sticks. And then we watered cherry trees, but the trees don’t have cherries yet,” said Jay Alsadir, 8.
The group trooped cheerfully to the arts and crafts hut and was soon busy drawing self-portraits in purple, yellow, green, blue and many other colors. Then they affixed stickers to a big wooden frame that would display all of their beautiful art together – a fitting metaphor for this peaceable group of campers, among the youngest at Camp Jones Gulch, who all come from South Coast families.
Puente is in its eighth year of partnering with the YMCA on a Day Camp program that brings local kids into the woods for fun-filled one or two-week sessions, five times per summer. In just two weeks, campers will experience everything summer has to offer: swimming, team sports, horseback riding, zip lining, hiking, nature hikes, archery, climbing, boating – and of course, the requisite campfire songs and marshmallows.
Many day campers come from families that would not be able to afford camp for their children, said Rita Mancera, Program Director for Puente.
”The Puente-Jones Gulch partnership gives local children the opportunity to experience day camp.”
To make it financially possible, Puente hires several local youth counselors, aged 16 to 18. They looked to be having almost as much fun as the kids. Counselor Isela Marin leaned looked over at Rosa Carmona’s drawing of herself as a dancer in a purple dress. “I love dancing,” the 9-year-old explained.
“Do you want to draw ballet slippers?” Marin asked, smiling.
Parents who can afford the $25 weekly camp fee often give a little extra to subsidize those who can’t. The small fee helps Puente take care of both transportation and logistics, making it worry-free.
“Parents can go to work and know their kids are safe and they’re in good hands,” said Mancera.
The Camp Jones Gulch campers range in age from 5 to 13 years. Many sibling pairs attend together, such as Mairol Hernandez, 10, and her little sister Perla, 5. In Mairol’s opinion, the best part of summer camp is being outside. “I really enjoy not being in the house,” she said.
Both sisters were intent on a sticker collage when Perla decided to experiment with putting some stickers on her face instead. Before long, her cheeks and forehead were covered with flowers and stars. No one stopped her – this is summer camp, after all.
This summer also marks the second year of Puente to Pie, an innovative garden and farm-based bilingual immersion program for children ages 2 and 3. Together with partners at Pie Ranch, teachers were able to introduce children to barnyard and farm wonders as well as to Spanish words and phrases.
Puente also partnered with the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District to help staff Kick Off to Kinder and Panther Camp. Panther Camp is a summer program for Kindergarten-8th grade students to support academic achievement, provide academic interventions and enrichment activities for South Coast youth. Kickoff to Kindergarten is a Kindergarten Readiness program for children entering Kindergarten in August 2011.