BERLIN —Monday’s rain forced a bit of change in plans for the kids participating in the Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS) day camp, but they still found plenty of indoor activities to make their first day of camp enjoyable.
The camp is the first major youth event run by the WYFCS as part of a contract with the town. It takes place at Henry Park, so when the rain started, the kids and counselors had to organize their day so all activities could be accommodated within the confines of the Isaiah Fassett Community Center.
As it turns out, that wasn’t too much of a challenge. The kids didn’t get the exact exercise that the counselors hoped to provide, but they did get some. Everything else, including food and arts and crafts, was as conducive to enjoying inside as it was out.
When WYFCS approached the mayor and council to apply for the community coordinator job that had been advertised, some council members worried at the time that the funding would be incorporated into the WYFCS operating budget and not put to use serving town kids specifically.
The community coordinator position was conceived as a way of finding community youth more recreational and educational opportunities. The WYFCS coup was noticing that the job description matched part of their mission. They convinced the town they could accomplish more with the $24,000 annually than could one salaried person.
Since accepting the contract, the WYFCS staff has gone beyond what their funding would normally allow. Using their connections, current staff and understanding of the community, they accepted the challenge to provide a summer full of free camps for Berlin kids. While it isn’t radically different from other day camps, the program relies on community contacts to give the program depth.
Stefanie Gordy, who runs the program as part of her job as development and donor relations director at WCYFS, was determined to make the most of the opportunity, not only to serve the town but to serve the Berlin youth.
In response to the council’s wishes to get something done for the summer, they were able to reach into their pool of volunteers and sign up people to help run the camp.
Because of the nature of its work — WYFCS specializes in helping families and children in distress — it has a thorough screening process. Volunteers who were already screened were added to staff members to fill out this first of what will be three day camps throughout the summer.
The youth volunteers are 20-somethings who have already committed to volunteer on other projects and responded to this additional call. This is the kind of attitude with which the WYFCS has always functioned, going to reliable resources and building relationships that provide more services than paid funding alone would normally allow.
The relationships they’ve built over the years extend beyond their volunteer pool. As part of the current day camp, for instance, there will be a series of speakers as part of the post-lunch cool down.
Zoo to You, the program sponsored by the Salisbury Zoo that brings animals out for demonstrations in classrooms during the school year, is among the program leaders WYFCS has already engaged for the summer. Similarly, a representative from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program will give a talk on creatures of the bays and bring along examples for the kids.
In addition to drawing from its connections, the WYFCS effort also depends on its own staff. Stefanie Gordy, who runs the program for WYFCS, has been charged with finding and using all the appropriate resources necessary to provide a superior experience.
She said beyond the contract with the town, one of the critical funding aspects of the program is the fact that the WCYFS was appointed one of the Parrot Head Club of Ocean City’s Mardi Gras charities this year.
As important as the additional money was to the program, finding the right people to help run it required looking beyond job descriptions and finding the talents among the staff that best translated into a camp setting. To that end, she brought in Julie Suplee, an art therapist, to lead the arts and crafts portion of the camp.
There’s a significant difference between an art teacher and an art therapist in the professional world, but in terms of providing the campers a creative outlet with challenging projects and explaining the processes needed to complete a task, Suplee is well- if not over-qualified.
And this is where the marriage of what the WYFCS does regularly and the contract it has taken on with the town offers the most benefit. Where a single person would be hard pressed to organize a series of summer camps, let alone free ones staffed by screened professionals, the WYFCS has the resources to include experts on their the day camp roster.
The real challenge at first, was getting the word out about the free camps, but as news of the kids’ positive experience spread, the camps began to fill.
Although there are still a few spots available in this and the following two camps, Gordy said that parents should consider early registration to avoid being locked out.
The current camp runs 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays through Aug. 3. It will be followed by another held at Henry Park 9 a.m.-3 p.m. every day the week of August 8. Session II will include field trips as well as sports and arts and crafts.
Session III begins the following week with the same schedule as Session II and will be held at “The Ray,” in the WYFCS downtown offices. Gordy said she expects the weeklong camps to appeal to working parents even more than the twice-weekly camp has.
For more information or to register, contact the WYFCS main number 410-641-4598 and ask for Stefanie Gordy.