‘I made a lot of cool friends this summer’

Summer Camp. Young people find a much needed reprieve from a chaos-filled year.

Sparta /
| 24 Mar 2023 | 04:18

It’s no secret this past year and a half has been stressful for everyone, especially kids. After months of hybrid learning and being glued to screens, there’s no doubt that these kids could do with a little letting loose.

“Our camp helps bring back a sense of normalcy the kids so desperately need after the many months of the pandemic,” said Chris Ennis, who runs Camp Ninja Warrior in Sparta. “No masks, no technology and they stay active for the whole three hours they’re here.”

What follows is a look at three summer camps in the area and how each offers young people a chance to be themselves with few reminders of how restrictive COVID-19 has been on them. So, listen to the voices of children at play, not with devices, but with each other.

The Pocono Environmental Education Center’s Nature Day Camp

Nature, friendship and simplicity. These are the three words Director of Education Stephanie Sherman-Barr uses to describe the Pocono Environmental Education Center’s Nature Day Camp.

Sherman-Barr realizes the impact the pandemic has had on her campers: “I’ve also noticed just the sheer need to interact with others and develop social skills. Younger kids are learning how to cooperate and self-regulate their needs/wants now with others in a group. Older kids are desiring to play and cooperate independently in free play with a greater level of appreciation now. It really highlights the importance of human contact after the pandemic.”

What sets PEEC’s Nature Camp apart from the rest is in its name: nature. Campers get to enjoy things like hiking, exploring, swimming at Akenac Park and taking environmental education lessons at the EcoZone. Campers can also look forward to field trips into the Delaware Water Gap and demonstrations from guest animal presenters.

Although there are constant camp favorites like playing games and muckraking at the ponds, “not every day is the same because of the changes in field trips, themes for activities for the week and various styles of teaching from our environmental educators,” Sherman-Barr said.

The Nature Camp reached a record high number of campers last summer, but they actually surpassed it this year. They’ve also had the largest waitlist Sherman-Barr has seen in her five years of being the Director of Education at PEEC.

Despite the largeness of the Pocono Environmental Education Center, the Nature Camp provides a small-scale feel.

“We boast the ability to host large school field trips of hundreds but I like to know all of my 60 some campers each week by name,” Sherman-Barr said. “It gives a personal touch to keep things small and simple.”

Camp Ninja Warrior in Sparta

Chris Ennis knows that he doesn’t run a traditional summer camp.

“There’s no archery classes, canoeing, or arts and crafts going on here,” Ennis said. “We’re an obstacle course training facility similar to the hit TV show American Ninja Warrior.”

A day in the life at Camp Ninja Warrior looks a little different every day. The games, activities and challenges offered are constantly changing. There is, however, something campers can expect every single day ... to work up a sweat.

“You wanna talk about a good cardio workout,” said Sharon Delli Santi, who manages social media and reservations at Sparta Ninja Warrior. “Try running around with kids for an hour dodging Nerf darts.”

Every day, campers are improving their physical strength, stamina, balance and coordination but they don’t even realize it because they’re having so much fun. When pick-up time comes around, some kids even hide behind obstacles so their parents can’t take them home.

They are also learning some important life lessons. “On the first day the children see all the obstacles and might feel overwhelmed or intimidated,” Delli Santi said, “but throughout the week as they work on their skills, they learn that perseverance and determination brings success.

Camp Discovery

“We love giving the campers a chance to put down the technology and engage with their peers through games, challenges and activities,” said Danielle Burke, one of the camp directors at the YMCA Camp Discovery in Harriman State Park

Camp Discovery prides itself in creating a different experience for their campers every single day.

Although each day is unique, there are still set activities that can be expected every single day. These include starting the day with a big dance party at Spirit Circle, swimming and boating in Upper Twin Lake, doing crafts at the Art Cabin, going on nature walks, archery and more. This offers a balance of scheduled activities and free time to explore and engage in that day’s theme.

As one camper from group 8 explained: “I love being able to drift into the lake on a kayak and look at the sparkles on the water from the sun.”

A day in the life at camp looks a lot different than it did last summer. Camp Discovery was operating at half capacity in 2020, serving a little more than 100 campers a day. With the COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, the number of campers has doubled.

According to Irene Rumsey, one of the Camp Directors, a normal day at Camp Discovery is all about three senses: “Hearing the campers play and laugh, seeing them engaged in activities with the counselors, and feeling the sense of joy and comradery in the air.”

The staff also sets out to make a lasting impression on their campers and to promote social and emotional growth.

Counselor Bianca Batar, who was once a camper at Camp Discovery, said that her day consists of ensuring that the kids have the best possible experience. “I always try to make sure everyone feels included and safe while having a fun time.”

Whether it be Twin Day, Crazy Hair Day or Fun Friday, the staff at Camp Discovery also makes sure to place importance on fostering freedom and fun for their campers. Destressing from the hectic school year and just being a kid is what a day at Camp Discovery is all about.

It seems to work. As one group 1 camper reported: “I like going swimming, boating, and archery. I made a lot of cool friends this summer!”