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Summer camps run by local recreation department offer summer fun to kids

The kids are out of school for the summer, but the parents are still at work. What to do?
    Since 1969, parents from all over Bulloch County have sent their children to day summer camps run by the local recreation department. Camp Cherokee was the first of these camps in Statesboro. It began as a half-day camp, but over the years it evolved into a full day camp running from the first week school is out to the week before school begins again.
    The day camps provide care for children from kindergarten to 5th grade.
    Camp Cherokee was so successful that Camp Tomahawk was started. But this summer, camp enrollment was so high that the Statesboro and Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department opened a third camp.
    As Joy Deal, program supervisor of the Rec Department explains, before the third camp was created, there were more than 40 children on a waiting list.
    “Our goal is to provide a quality summer camp experience for children, and if people want that, we want to provide it,” Deal says.
    Camp Tomahawk averages 80-90 campers a week, while Camp Cherokee usually has about 75 campers each week. The newest camp, Camp Apache, has an average of 48-50 campers each week.
    Now there is no waiting list, thanks to Camp Apache. The camp was started exclusively for first graders, but Deal said there also are second graders at this new camp.
    Second through fifth graders usually attend Camp Tomahawk.
    The three camps are held Monday thru Friday at various schools throughout Bulloch County. Camp Cherokee is for children in PreK and kindergarten. It is held at Sally Zetterower Elementary School. First and 2nd graders attend Camp Apache at Julia P. Bryant Elementary School, while children from 2nd grade to 5th grade attend Camp Tomahawk at Mattie Lively Elementary School.
    The camps are not just daycare facilities. Each camp provides art, sports, technology and educational activities all throughout the day, Deal said.
    Kevin Lavender, 19, activity coordinator and Camp Cherokee counselor, says it was difficult organizing the activities for the camps, but he and other staff members managed to come up with several exciting activities. “I just want them to have fun,” Lavender said.
    Each of the camps go to Statesboro’s waterpark, Splash in the Boro, twice per week and the older camps go on at least one field trip a week.
    “We like to give the kids experiences that their parents aren’t able to provide when they are working,” Deal says of the camp trips.
    Throughout the eight weeks of camps, children will participate in an educational themed experience called “Backpacking Across America.” Each week the children will study a state and participate in various activities that relate to the state. On Wednesday, children from Camp Tomahawk traveled to Augusta for an ice skating adventure.
    Next week, Camps Cherokee and Apache are going on a trip to Dairy Queen as they learn that the ice cream chain started in Alaska.
    Also, Camp Cherokee and Camp Apache will be involved in the “America Reads” program all summer long. Each day, a worker from America Reads comes to the camps and reads with the children for one or two hours. Deal says the goal of the program is “to keep their minds going” while they are out of school.
    When the children aren’t reading or going on trips, they are usually playing outside or participating in the ‘centers.’ Deal says, “The centers are a favorite of the children because they have more choice. There are plenty of things that interest the boys and girls.”
    The centers are stations set up all around the school cafeterias that provide mental and physical stimulation for the campers. The centers contain arts and craft projects, dramatic play areas where the kids can dress up, work benches, and play kitchen areas. The children can also participate in dancing games, Lego and block-building and video and computer games.    
    Deal credits the success of the camps to the hard-working staff. “The staff does a fabulous job. They are here for the children and they are here to have fun.” She says that the camp program has evolved into a good, fun atmosphere because of the staff’s hard work. Each camp has one staff member for every 10 campers.
    For registration information for the summer camp program, call 764-5637, visit the Statesboro and Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department’s website www.BullochRec.com or visit the department’s office in the Honey Bowen Building on Max Lockwood Drive in Statesboro.

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