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July 16, 2013

Counselors make the camp great

Demand continues to grow for spot at Recreation Day Camp

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

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From left, Avery Bellish, 7, Samantha Dygas, 8, and Alexis Hoffmeyer, 10, are ready for the day camp field trip to Comerica Park to see a Detroit Tigers game.

ROSEVILLE — Recreation Day Camp in Roseville continues to be as popular as ever in its 10th year, now run through the Recreational Authority of Roseville and Eastpointe.

Despite a growing demand for sports at the camp, only 60 kids ages 6-12 are admitted to the nine-week day camp each year, many of whom are return campers.

“We have an 85 percent return rate right up until they are 12,” said camp administrator Bobbie Wilson, the assistant director of the recreational authority. “This year, we had a 15-kid waiting list and we turned away another 50 who wanted to register, and we probably could run 120 kids here, but it’s not what we want to do. We focus on quality rather than quantity, and it works. The campers love coming to camp, and so do the counselors.”

Just like the campers, the counselors often return year after year. Wilson attributes much of the camp’s success to two specific factors that seem to complement each other.

“A lot of the camps allow week-to-week registration or you can sign up for weeks one, seven and eight, or whatever ones you want. But we have a full nine-week program, and when parents register their kids, they know that,” Wilson said. “We also have low camper-to-counselor ratios.”

With fewer kids per counselor and a full nine weeks to get to know each other, both campers and counselors tend to walk away with new, sometimes even lifelong, friends, Wilson said.

“I formed a lot of friendships here at camp,” said 19-year-old Center Line resident and camp counselor Zack Goggins, who first attended as a camper when he was 9 years old. “But I was really close with one of the counselors that still works here now.”

After three years as a camper, Goggins jumped at the chance to come back to camp as a teenager when Wilson called him and told him about the camp’s new teen counselor program.

“The teen counselors are there to lend a helping hand; the state requires counselors to be at least 18 years old, but we have teen counselors who have to go through the same training and certification and come in to help out.

Teens who are accepted for the position and work 10-15 hours a week are paid $375 at the end of the nine weeks as a stipend, which is funded by the Roseville Optimist Club, the Roseville Lions Club and the Roseville Kiwanis Club. They also get great work experience and references for future jobs and college applications.

Goggins was only a teen counselor for one year, then took a short break from the day camp before returning as a counselor last year. Today, he and the counselor he became close with are great friends.

Stories likes Goggins’ aren’t rare at Recreation Day Camp. The kids look up to and genuinely like the camp counselors, and many of them are already planning to come back as teen counselors as soon as they are old enough.

“I think camp is great!” said 10-year-old Damon Terrelle, who’s been coming to the camp for two years. “It has nice crafts, fun activities, awesome counselors and video games, and I really like video games.”

Of all the things Terrelle likes about camp, he says it’s the counselors who make him want to return as a camper and then become a teen counselor.

“They understand you and they are fun and they are very funny,” Terrelle said of the counselors. “They have humor, they’re humorous and they have fun with you and teach you new games.”

Terrelle’s favorite is a game made up by a counselor a few years ago called the baseball card board game.

“Frank Heinrich used to be the day camp director and he made up this board game with baseball cards, and the kids just loved it, so it’s a regular activity at camp now,” Wilson said.

The counselors aren’t the only ones teaching others how to play new games.

Warren resident Amy Las-kowski, 30, has been working at the recreation center for 11 years, working her way up from summer playground director to camp counselor, to camp assistant director to camp director, but even after a decade working with kids, she says they are still teaching her new things.

“I love it because you get to teach the kids new things and take them new places they might not have a chance to go without camp, but the kids teach you a lot, too,” Laskowski said.

“We always tell the kids to bring in the games and activities they know and like that we don’t have here and teach us how to do them. This year, some of the girls came in and taught us how to make friendship bracelets, and now we are doing it as a camp activity next week.”

It’s those things that Wilson said make all the difference between their nine-week program and the week-by-week programs offered at other day camps.

“With a nine-week program, there is time for strong relationships between campers and campers, and campers and counselors, to be formed,” Wilson said. “I think it’s better that way. They get to branch out, meet new friends, try new things and really get to know each other.”

Goggins agreed.

“It’s more of an intimate experience because it is nine weeks long, so we all know each other and kids so well by the end of the summer,” Goggins said, before explaining that by knowing each camper as an individual, counselors can create a better camp experience for them. Counselors observe how campers learn and help them try new things.

And at Recreation Day Camp — where games can be created by anyone and played by all, and weekly field trips vary from Detroit Tigers games to water parks to community service — it’s all about experiencing summer in a way that only kids and kids-at-heart can.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.