This year's Staff of the Year works hard every day at Fort Meigs YMCA Day Camp.
Sara Perna does the little things every day to give the kids in her care that something special that only camp can deliver. Fort Meigs YMCA Day Camp serves the Perrysburg/Toledo, Ohio, area, and sees a gamut of kids from all backgrounds.
Earlier this year, we received the following from one of the parents who entrusted their child's care to Perna and the day camp:
"Sara has gone out of her way as the Day Camp Director to make sure all of the staff and children have the best experience possible while they are at camp. Sara has set high standards for herself and has met every one of them. She is always encouraging the kids to try new things and to always put their best foot forward. Sara makes sure the core values of the YMCA are taught to all of the kids. My child loves attending day camp because of people like Sara. As a parent, I feel comfortable sending my child to camp every day, and I know he will come home every night with a huge smile on his face and have a new story to tell every night."
This is the type of endorsement every camp -- whether day camp or traditional camp -- strives for, particularly in an age when parents are extra-careful and extra-sensitive about letting their kids go... even for a day.
"The most important thing we do is to let them have their freedom during the summer. If you force them to do particular activities or have limited activities you might have problems. We let them decide what they want to do, within limits of course. It makes them enjoy their summer and not feel like they're being babysat all the time," says Perna.
The day camp does a lot of group activities and team-building games, and as much outdoor programs as possible. Though the children are given flexibility, the breadth of programming and choosing that programming wisely (think fun), along with keeping the groups as small as possible (typically 12-15 children per counselor), helps keep the ball rolling.
Furthermore, fun incentives are provided to pick up the interest in the various activities. They earn beads and patches for what they do, and for how they behave.
For the most part, the group will take a vote, and whatever activity the group votes on is what they'll do. They get to pick. If they decide on doing something, they're usually content to cooperate and getting along with everyone.
"Having smaller groups has helped a lot. There's not a bunch of kids there to be embarrassed with when they try something they haven't done before. They're also forming stronger bonds," says Perna. "Each morning all of the campers put on suntan lotion and bug spray and then get in a large circle to do a morning work-out and chapel. Once that's over, each group gets with their counselor and has a group meeting. During the morning meeting and ice breakers, they discuss the activities they want to do that day. Based upon everyone's feedback, they will either do the recommended activity or have a majority vote on what they would like to do."
Camp runs from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday in the summer. The ages range from 5 to 12, and the camp averages 80-90 children per day, divided up among nine to ten staff members.
Programming includes hiking, fishing, arts and crafts, horseback riding, field trips, and guest speakers (a recent topic was cycling), among other activities.