Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Colorado Springs community centers celebrate end of summer camps

by Jesse Byrnes jesse.byrnes@gazette.com - Published: July 26, 2013 0

Throwing some hotdogs on the grill, enjoying healthy snacks and presenting camp awards to youngsters as family and friends watched helped bring a busy summer to a close.

Several dozen parents, campers, volunteers and staffers gathered at three Colorado Springs community centers Thursday to celebrate the end of their 2013 summer camps.

Dozens of teens and elementary and preschool students participated in a host of activities for each center's seven-week camp, including biking, ice skating, reading, painting, golfing, bowling and swimming. Most of the activities were provided by community partners.

"Our kids don't stop talking about all the places they went, all the skills they acquired," said Brian Kates, facility director of the Meadows Park Community Center. The city runs Meadows Park as well as Deerfield Hills and Hillside community centers.

The centers are in lower socioeconomic areas and offer a safe environment for children to learn basic skills, officials said.

Meadows Park, near Stratton Meadows Elementary School off South El Paso Avenue, had 72 kindergarten through fifth-grade campers for its 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. summer day camp. Its eight staff members and two work-study students were assisted by 25 middle and high school volunteers. Many of the volunteers were campers when they were young.

Some, like Nicholas Sells, 10, otherwise would have little to do during summer.

"At home, all you get to do is go outside for a couple minutes. Here you get to go all day and all night," said Sells, a fifth-grader at Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy who has gone to the Meadows Park summer camp for four years. This year, he said, "there were a lot more smaller dudes."

Sells is one of several children who participated in the Kids on Bikes program, which trains students how to ride and change tires. At the end, each gets a free mountain bike, water bottle, air pump, patch kit and bell.

That kind of program is possible only because of community partnerships, officials said.

In 2010 the city of Colorado Springs made significant cuts to its parks budget, affecting the community centers. Meadows Park went from a $350,000 operating budget with 90 percent from the city to seeing less than $200,000, said Kates. That meant going from being a direct provider of resources and activities to being a coordinator of services through area partnerships.

The budget from the city has crept back up - $268,594 this year. The program also gets money from the community, this year raising $73,500 through July. Each year the center partners with about 70 area organizations, and this year teamed up with more than 20 nonprofits for its summer camp alone.

"It's a different look at it, but it still accomplishes the bottom line," said Kates.

Meadows Park has two satellite locations, which helps the center focus on the southwest portion of the city: Stratmoor Hills Food Pantry on B Street, opened in 2011, and Elevate at 923 Arcturas Drive, off 8th Street, opened last year.

The summer camps are part of the year-round services offered by the centers.

The camps allow children "to make new friends and gives them an opportunity to experience things outside their own backyard," said Joan Clemons, the facility manager at the Hillside Community Center near Fountain Park.

Hillside, located in an area where 89 percent of children get free or reduced-price school lunches, had 110 campers, 14 staff and a dozen volunteers for its camp.

The camp included the CrossFit Kids athletic program, instructional programs from Colorado Springs Utilities and time at the Painted Mines Interpretive Park in Calhan. The center partnered with AspenPointe to allow the campers on Thursday to work on art projects for the center's community art garden.

Swimming, provided through the YMCA, was Tiffany White's favorite activity.

"I liked it because I got to sit on the noodle," said White, who's going into fourth grade at Sky Academy and has gone to the summer camp for four years.

"It keeps her active," said Walter, her father. He and his wife run a coffee shop at Fort Carson and enjoy letting their daughter spend some time away from home so they can focus on their business.

"We had so many great extras happening this year," said Jody Derington, the director at the Deerfield Hills Community Center by Turman Elementary School, which also held a barbecue on Thursday.

Deerfield has 20 staff members and had 25 volunteers and 95 campers.

The center will continue with its fairground and popular free water playground until Labor Day, and, like the other centers, will provide after-school programming when students go back to classes in August.

"We're not trying to tell people how to live their lives, but show them all the opportunity that is out there," said Kates. "No one's going to fall through the cracks, not as long as I'm here."

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