As spring gives way to summer, some area youngsters lose the support of school-based programs that feed their bellies and engage their brain, which is where YMCA of Jefferson County‘s camps come in.
While the YMCA’s summer day camps do charge fees, scholarships are available to make them available to as many as possible, says Jefferson County YMCA Branch Manager Jessie Wedmore.
In addition to expanding morning camps to include ages three to five, the camps for kids up to age 12 cover a diverse array of educational and entertaining subjects: “dragonology”, theater, live-action role play and even Shakespeare.
“We’ve had kids going all over to collect ‘dragon eggs,’” Wedmore said. “They’ve gone to places like the farmer’s markets and the city pool, to ‘steal a cloak of persuasion’ and ‘level up’ by eating fried crickets. A lot of thought and work went into setting up these camps.”
In addition to allowing children to indulge in fantasies, camps also promote literacy by focusing on age-appropriate books such as “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Boxcar Children” series.
“Even when they think they’re translating runes, they’re actually learning to read,” Wedmore said. “They’re getting an education, they’re getting their physical activity for the day, and they’re getting fed.”
Summer day camps aren’t the only option for free meals and intellectual stimulation.
This summer also offers young people the opportunity to be mentored through the “Building Futures” program, which is set to bring older mentors and young people together through the low-ropes challenge course at Gibbs Lake Park. Building Futures also hosts an annual summer party for mentees and their mentors at HJ Carroll Park each summer. The day includes busing to the event for students who do not have a ride, a lunch of pizza, fruit, vegetables and lemonade, ice cream sandwiches, and hours of field games and outdoor activities.
“And for our bigger camps, we offer financial assistance as well,” Wedmore said, alluding to the five-day Camp David Jr. at Lake Crescent, from June 28 to July 2, as well as Camp Beausite for ages 6-12 from Aug. 19-23, and for ages 10-14 from Aug. 26-30.
Rowen Matkins, youth coordinator for the Jefferson County YMCA, has seen firsthand how the YMCA’s summer programs offer experiences to children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them.
“It gives them a chance to explore topics that can potentially spark interest or even joy in them,” Matkins said.
“It also keeps them busy and gives them a place to put their energy.”
Matkins has worked with children growing up in low-income households and foster families, but regardless of their difficulties, she’s seen ways in which they can benefit from the Y’s programs.
“There are kids for whom the Y is one of their islands of stability,” Matkins said. “It’s important to have a place where you know people are looking out for you.”
Matkins also sees the reading elements of Y summer programs as an adjunct to schooling.
“It also helps them avoid losing academic ground over the summer.”
Chimacum, Brinnon and Quilcene all serve as sites for both the Summer Meals and Summer Literacy programs, while the former Mountain View Elementary campus, the Jefferson County Recreation Center and the Jefferson County Library simply host the Summer Meals program.
Last year, the YMCA’s whiteboard showed 30 breakfasts and 40 lunches being served daily at Chimacum, 20 breakfasts and 30 lunches at Brinnon, and seven lunches at Quilcene, while Mountain View logged 15 breakfasts and 20 lunches, the play park recorded five lunches and seven snacks, and the library served up another seven lunches.
Brinnon, Quilcene, and the library don’t serve meals on Friday and Jefferson County Recreation Center doesn’t serve meals on Monday.
Summer Meals and Summer Literacy programs run for eight weeks out of the summer in Chimacum, but only for five weeks in Brinnon and Quilcene, Wedmore said.
Likewise, Mountain View serves up Summer Meals for eight weeks, while the rec center and library only serve meals for five weeks.