Summer rec is fun and valuable
by TRACEY BARNES PRIESTLEY
IF YOU HAVE KIDS, READ ON. IF YOU DON'T HAVE kids, read on. Because either way, as a member of this community, you ultimately benefit from the youth summer recreation programs offered throughout the county.
Sound strange? It isn't really, when you consider exactly what it is these programs do for children and their families. As stated in Arcata's Park and Recreation Program 2002 Annual Report, "The Arcata Parks and Recreation Divisions exist because physical recreation, quality leisure activities and play contribute to a meaningful life, are essential to a child's development and are the best personal and community health insurance plans available. Leisure and community service provide leadership opportunities that build strong neighborhoods and community and teach life skills such as communication, problem solving and decision making." In other words, if we tend to the needs of children, foster their development and enrich their lives, chances are they will grow up to become contributing members of our community.
But what does this mean in practical terms? It means that somehow, when every budget in this county has been stripped to the bone, Arcata, Eureka, McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Fortuna and Manila manage to offer kids something to do besides hang out at the mall, watch television or play video games. The creative financing required to keep these programs up and running is impressive. Though most of the programs are fee-based, they are remarkably affordable. But if a parent can't come up with the fee, there are scholarships or, in the case of one Eureka program, no charge at all.
Some programs have a tax base to help, others do not, so there's usually a need for additional funds. Humboldt Area Foundation, Humboldt Sponsors and other organizations make donations to subsidize scholarships. The Food Bank provides many programs with lunches. Simpson Timber stepped in to upgrade one of Eureka's playgrounds with the donation of 80 cubic yards of wood chips. It truly is a collaborative effort among agencies, businesses and individuals -- something else that is quite refreshing these days.
This patchwork of money and services manages to get stretched a very long way. In Arcata alone, approximately 800 children will participate in the Redwood Day Camp program. Parents can enroll their 5 to 12 year-olds for up to nine weekly sessions. If needed, kids can arrive as early as 7:30 a.m. and stay until 5:30 p.m., something working parents especially appreciate (organized activities begin at 9 a.m.). However long they stay, the lucky kids involved are in for some fun, exploration, creativity, friendship and problem solving. Each week has a different theme, things like "Wonderful Water," "Animal Planet," even "Comic Relief."
New this year is the Day Camp Combo, in which a child can attend Redwood Day Camp in the morning and then spend the afternoon in a specialized program that focuses on either nature or art.
But it was Arcata's new Youth Action Team Camp for kids 11 to 13 that really caught my attention. Just at an age when kids are too old for many recreational activities but certainly old enough if left on their own to get into potentially harmful pursuits, along comes a program designed to promote leadership skills and problem solving. The camp divides the kids into separate teams, where they apply what they are learning to different situations in sports, aquatics, visual arts, fine arts and community service. The kids learn about themselves and each other, leaving camp with a practical set of skills that can help them throughout their lives.
All of these recreation camps go so far beyond what the uninformed may assume is just summer daycare. Traci Ferdolage, McKinleyville's parks and recreation director, trains her staff to work in a variety of settings. "We are building community here," Ferdolage said. "Kids grow up seeing our recreation staff throughout their lives -- not only in the summer programs, but also throughout the year at the community center, their schools, special events. They know there's support out there, people who care. They learn that there are people they can ask for whatever they need."
Equally important, each program emphasizes mentoring by providing children with positive role models. I especially liked the way Sue Rovai, recreation supervisor for Eureka, put it: "I tell the people I interview for these jobs that they can have all of the experience in the world but if they don't have the right attitude for working with kids, I can't offer them a job." Arcata's recreation manager, Karen Diemer, emphasized a similar priority: "If we have a child who is difficult to pull in, we'll rotate him or her through different leaders until we find a positive match." To me, that's a real commitment to the well-being of children.
As fun, creative, and enriching as these summer camps obviously are, and as much peace of mind as they give parents, these programs affect the lives of our children in ways that can help them become better adults. I don't know about you but from this midlife vantage point I think it's good news that summer youth recreation programs increase the probability that we'll be able to settle into our rocking chairs with some degree of confidence rather than all-out dread!
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.