The YMCA Outdoor Summer Camp in Woodstock offers a place where children play, create, and build friendships while exploring the outdoors.
In a safe, structured environment reminiscent of a bygone era, Cherokee County YMCA Outdoor Camp offers an outdoor space where kids participate in sports and engage with their peers. “Kids need that time outdoors,” says Senior Director Bob Bentley. “We have a structured program where kids can hike in the woods, swim in the lake, and play sports. We have kids who have never walked in the woods or swum in the lake or been fishing, yet by the end of the week they can tie their own lines and bait their own hooks.”
Bob does not allow technology on the property. Instead of reaching for their phones, the kids reach out to each other. He says that even the teens learn to sit, talk, and play with newfound friends.
The traditional camp Bob calls the “perfect sampler of everything” is for boys and girls ages five to thirteen. Campers begin each morning with a song and skit and then participate in activities such as hiking, playing soccer, swimming, or arts and crafts. Even the youngest campers enjoy hiking two miles to see Frogtopia, a lake outcropping home to baby frogs.
Specialty Camp programs also focus up to two hours on a specialty. Participants may sign up for fishing camp and then play soccer. The following day those kids may play kickball and then go fishing. There are also themed camps like Little Jedi, Sporties for Shorties, Science, and Arts & Crafts.
Advanced Leadership Academies and the Navigator Program allow teens to teach younger age groups a game or craft. Another leader critiques their presentations during debriefing sessions.
Prospective camp counselors who complete the Navigator Program can advance to the Leaders in Training [LIT] program. LIT provides a few days of teaching and debriefing to learn how best to lead games and work with younger campers before committing to working for a full summer. LIT kids also learn what Bob is looking for when hiring a counselor. “The leaders-to-be know what they are capable of, and so do I, because I’ve seen them,” he quips.
Many of Bob’s staff members later go into careers in teaching or coaching. “One staff member, Josh Francis, was in the year-round team club, performed in the LIT program, and has since gone on to college,” Bob says proudly. Last summer Josh served as the waterfront coordinator, driving boats and lifeguarding. This summer former camper Josh will be a camp counselor and run the LIT program.
Josh says. “It’s a family here.” He jokes about being a city kid with doubts about camp in the first place. “That first day I got stuck in the mud at the lake and lost my shoes.” He led a group of campers in kneeboarding on the lake last summer. “I did that! It was heartwarming to challenge the kids and see that they listen, learn, and do.” That emotional connection “makes the last [day of] camp hard,” he notes, “because we have to say goodbye, and that bond is hard to break.”
YMCA offers more than playing outside. Campers learn résumé-building, participate in mock job interviews, gain social skills, build lasting friendships, develop self-confidence and independence, and practice problem-solving, self-reliance, and team-building. With a wide variety of activities on two hundred acres with fields, tennis courts, lakefront property, and miles of trails, kids are never stuck in an activity they don’t like. Learn more at YMCAatlanta.org.
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Cindy Pope is an award-winning author, lifestyle writer, novelist, and speaker. She earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing Program at Kennesaw State University focusing on Creative Writing and Creative Non-Fiction. Her work is published in the literary journal American Writers Review 2022.