Tuesday, August 5, 2008

For these youngsters, summertime means fun at Camp Shand

On a bright, sunny day, kids were swimming, hiking, paddling, rowing, climbing, making crafts, playing basketball, shooting archery, learning, fishing, dancing, painting, and biking.

It was just another Monday at the Lancaster YMCA's Camp Shand, an expansive 120-acres of woodland located just outside the Turnpike in southern Lebanon County near Cornwall.

The camp has been in operation for 115 years, 20 of those years being at its present location, Camp Director Chris Smith explained.

The camp offers a panoply of programs and activities for children as young as six and as old as 17.

A day camp, for kids ages six through 12, runs from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day, Monday-Friday. Day campers rotate through a series of activity periods, including one afternoon elective. Elective activities include friendship bracelet making, scrapbook making, soccer, basketball, archery, and more. Day campers can also stay on the weekends and take advantage of field trips to such attractions as Hershey Park, Harrisburg, and the Baltimore Aquarium.

A resident camp, for kids ages seven through 12 runs from Sunday-Friday, with campers actually sleeping in cabins on-site (pictured). There is also a "lite" version of resident camp in which kids can stay for up to three nights to see if they're comfortable with being away from home.

There's also a Teen Adventure Camp on-site, and an "Expeditions Travel Camp," which offers such off-site activities as rafting on the Lehigh River and kayaking in the Delaware Seashore's Cape Henelopen State Park.

Camp Shand also has specialty programs in which kids can practice one activity all week long. Activities like boating, archery, art, fishing, outdoor survival, science, and drama.

The camp has a full-sized swimming pool with a water slide (pictured). Swimming is an activity the day campers do every day, Smith said.

The camp also has a small lake and a boathouse with rowboats, canoes, and kayaks (pictured).

A ropes/challenge course for the older kids helps them build trust, confidence, teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. While "on belay" (strapped into a harness and secured by a rope), participants attempt to climb cargo nets and spaced wooden rungs, and traverse high wires (pictured).

On the ground, a team of kids was working on conquering the "spider web,"(pictured) a web-like arrangement of widely interwoven strings. Team members must cross through the holes in the web without touching the strings, which are imagined to be electrified. Once a certain hole has been crossed, it is closed and subsequent team members must cross through other openings. The kids quickly learn that they will have to devise and execute a coordinated plan to get certain team members of varying heights, weights, and strengths through different holes in the web.

A camp counselor debriefed them after the activity. "What do you think you did well in this activity?" she asked.

"Teamwork." "We worked together!" the answer emerged.

A similar activity is the "team wall" in which participants have to figure out how to get everyone over a 12-foot wall. The counselors explain the objective and leave it to the kids to figure out the method, providing useful leads along the way if they seem to be struggling.

At the archery range (pictured), counselors were explaining the importance of protective gear and obedience to range rules and commands. Then came firing time. Some hit the targets, some didn't - while counselors offered pointers - but all of the kids certainly appeared to be having a blast.

Elsewhere on the premises, a small, historic building being used to house archery equipment used to be a telegraph station for a now-dismantled railroad line that ran through the camp, Smith pointed out.

The camp also has a basketball court, baseball field, and volleyball court among its various recreational options.

At another site, a camp counselor was preparing for a class on outdoor survival skills, including fire-building, constructing a shelter out of natural materials, and how to identify safe natural edibles.

Younger kids and perhaps a higher proportion of girls could be found indoors engaged in music, dance, painting, and crafts (pictured).

The camp's dining hall (pictured) looked neat and impressive, with festive tablecloths, a diverse menu, and a full-time chef on duty. On the side of the dining hall is a rock wall used for climbing (pictured).

The camp also has numerous hiking trails and various other fun miscellaneous activities like a "slip 'n' slide" waterslide (pictured).

The number day campers is 76 this week with a capacity of 80 and the number of resident campers ranges from about 30 to 50, Smith explained.

"The core values of the Y are honesty, caring respect, and responsibility," Smith pointed out.

She went on to say that the camp attempts to instill these values in its campers, in addition to diversity, friendship, and safety.

Smith said she considers those core values "Christian values" that inform the camp's mission and method. Grace is said at meals and reverence for the divine is cultivated, though she insisted that the camp is inclusive and references to the theological are "not overt."

A cheerful middle-aged woman, Smith has been the Camp Director for four years. Prior to that, she worked for the YMCA in Lebanon County, the YMCA on a Cheyenne Indian reservation in South Dakota, and in the area of domestic violence support/recovery.

Having started in early June, the camp will run until August 22.

Camp Shand is named for a past President of the Lancaster YMCA, James Shand.