BERLIN — Representatives from Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS) gave the Berlin Mayor and Council an update on the town’s new summer camp initiative Monday night.
According to WYFCS, the program started strong and is quickly gaining even more momentum.
“We have been doing a lot,” said Stefanie Gordy, director of Development and Donor Relations at WYFCS.
Gordy has taken the helm on the agency’s summer camp. The idea to have WYFCS, a 36-year-old agency that works with youth from all across the county, develop a summer program specifically for Berlin children came up last spring.
Originally, Berlin had sought to hire a part-time consultant, but officials quickly decided to use the money that would have gone to the consultant’s salary to instead contract the entire WYFCS.
Gordy reported to the council Monday there are 27 campers, ages 7-12, currently enrolled in the program with more expected over the course of the summer. On Mondays and Wednesdays, campers arrive at 9 a.m. and stay until 3 p.m. Over the course of a typical day, they receive two meals, take part in an outdoor and assessment strengthening activity, and often meet a special guest in the afternoon.
“We’ve also planned some great field trips,” said Gordy.
The camp is free for all Berlin youth in the age group, something Gordy felt was especially important since many in the area live on low income. With the camp, said Gordy, kids are guaranteed several meals, supervised entertainment and activities, among other things.
“Really all the kids have to do is show up,” she said.
Gordy stressed that every day at camp was organized to be engaging, educational and aimed at helping kids grow. She added that, unlike traditional camps, the goal of the Berlin project was more to promote a sense of confidence and self-worth in children than to teach them about a few particular subjects.
Breakfast, lunch and any snacks provided are designed to be healthy and to teach kids about nutrition. The outdoor activity promotes exercise, while the personal assessment activity “gets children to focus on their potential,” according to Gordy. Special guests are brought in to expand each camper’s horizons and to educate them about the world around them.
“Grow Berlin Green is coming in next week,” said Gordy.
Campers will learn about the environment by making self-portraits out of entirely recycled materials. Those portraits will then be hung in The Globe’s art gallery where the artists will have a chance to view them on one of the camp’s field trips around historic Berlin.
Mayor Gee Williams was especially interested in those trips.
“It kind of surprises me how some kids are still isolated,” he said and thanked the agency for seeking to rectify that.
WYFCS Executive Director Teresa Fields informed the council that $10,500 of agency money has already been put toward the camp, funds raised from the Parrothead Mardi Gras event in Ocean City. The program has also received support and funding from Homes of America, and Choptank Charitable Trust, along with donations from local businesses and others. Fields explained that, while the effort has been a challenge for her agency, she thinks WYFCS has grown with the program.
“It’s been a great experience for us as an organization,” she said.
WYFCS Clinical Director Carolyn Cordial reported the camp was having “amazing results,” especially since many of the children require special attention. Though she admitted there have been a few bumps in the road, no problems have arisen yet that were too big to handle.
“Nobody’s been kicked out of the camp,” she added.
In fact, Cordial revealed that the longer the program goes on, the more steam it builds. She explained that it has become popular with area children, who are often on site before the counselors arrive.
“They’re there before we start,” she said.
Initial interest for the camp was sparked by holding open houses in area schools and through WYFCS partnerships with other local youth groups. Once the program started, Cordial said word of mouth began bringing in additional campers quickly.
“Once the kids started having fun, there were more showing up,” Cordial said.
When asked if all 27 enrolled students showed up every day, Cordial conceded that 16 to 21 was the average. However, she explained that the camp shared some students with other summer programs offered by the county and the school system. Thus, some kids can’t come every day because of conflict with another camp or project. Cordial assured the council that any absences were not from a lack of interest.
Though this is its maiden year, there is talk about how the program can expand in the future.
“You can see all of the possibilities where this can go over time,” said Williams.
The council asked WYFCS to return later this summer with another update and to eventually brief them on the next big step for the program: a five day-long camp event the third week of August.