July 21st, 2004 - Cape Cod Times Article Show Importance of Camperships
Summer programs for 'tweeners' get high praise from parents and police alike
Children that age don't want to braid another rope bracelet or take another swimming lesson.
But what are the alternatives? Hours of boredom, watching TV and being lured into mischief?
"You know how it is when kids hang out," said Louise Lopes of Hyannis, who is raising three grandsons. "Kids want to impress each other. They say, 'I dare you.'"
Increasingly, summer day camp and overnight programs are responding to the challenge of the junior-high years by offering specialized experiences such as leadership training, ropes challenge courses and rock climbing, or intensive courses in kayaking or sailing.
Four years ago, the program for 12- and 13-year-olds at Camp Lyndon in Sandwich had dropped to 40 to 50 campers per two-week session.
But there are 116 campers in that category this session, said Joan Sutherland, executive director of the YMCA of Cape Cod, which runs the day camp.
The Y tinkered with the program to make it more appealing to that age group, Sutherland said. "We added a full, adventure-based challenge course."
The Y upgraded the ropes and high elements course, which lets tweeners show their derring-do in a safe environment. The newer program emphasizes teamwork and decision making.
"It helps them makes choices as individuals and a group," Sutherland said. The camp continues to offer traditional activities such as swimming, archery, kayaking, sailing and canoeing.
"They are just starting to flex their muscles as far as independence goes," Mashpee Deputy Police Chief Albert Todino said.
"That age group can go either way," he said - toward trouble and vandalism, or toward maturity and growth.
Todino said supervised programs help tweeners make the right decisions.
The Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod in Mashpee, which offers both after-school activities and a summer day camp, has made a noticeable difference in town, Todino said.
"We're not seeing the hanging around and the vandalism we saw prior to the Boys & Girls Club coming to town. It provides something good to do during the day."
The summer camp became a full-time program requiring registration only two summers ago. The "great white sharks" program for children in grades 6-8 includes up to three field trips a week and puts an emphasis on character development and teamwork.
"Kids who are home alone not supervised by adults get into trouble. We know that. Every adult knows that," said Ruth Provost, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club in Mashpee.
"But even if they're really good kids and they stay in the house and lock the doors and mom checks in by phone, it's pretty stifling creatively," she said.
According to the National Institute on Out-of-School Time in Wellesley, the statistics are troubling.
"During the school year, more than one in 10 children regularly spends time alone or with a sibling under 13," an institute fact sheets says. "But these children spend twice as much time unsupervised in the summer - 10 hours a week more on average - compared to the school year."
The institute, which is based at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, says that lack of adult supervision has been linked to increased likelihood of accidents and injuries as well as involvement in delinquent behavior and experimentation with alcohol, drugs and sex.
"The odds are high that youth with nothing positive to do and nowhere to go will find things to do and places to go that negatively influence their development and futures," the institute says.
Stu Peoples, executive director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters for the Cape and Islands, knows that all too well, after years of dealing with hundreds of children.
That's why during the summer Big Brothers/Big Sisters, which is best known for matching adults with children in a mentoring relationship, focuses on providing camperships for almost 200 Cape and islands children.
"Probably the majority of the kids we send to camp are between 7 and 13," Peoples said. "We send kids primarily to residence camps," but some go to day camps on the Cape.
"I started this back when I came here 30 years ago and realized we deal primarily with the single parent, primarily the single working mother, and the kids have a lot of time on their hands in the summer," Peoples said. "They're too old for baby sitters and too young to have a summer job. We get the kids into some structured activities so mom doesn't have to worry about them while she's at work."
Big Brothers/Big Sisters has contracts with heavily endowed camps that offer substantial savings for financially stressed families. A private four-week summer overnight camp can run up to $6,500. Peoples said the well-regarded Brantwood camp in New Hampshire charges only $250 for 16 days of camp, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters splits the cost with the campers' families.
Lopes said she has sent all three of her grandsons to camps through Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the youngest, Sean Warren, 13, is at camp right now.
He comes home for a week for a family reunion and then heads off to Brantwood for 21 days.
"I like it because it's supervised," Lopes said. "They do mountain climbing and all kinds of stuff. They keep them busy. He'll be going again."
(Published: July 21, 2004 - Cape Cod Times)