Fun in the sun: Parks and rec summer camps leave a mark

Published 12:10 am Sunday, July 9, 2023

SALISBURY — The dog days of summer can be tough on kids. After getting through an entire school year, they have three months to do whatever they want. Still, spending all day in front of a computer or television screen can be monotonous and can remind them of school. Being able to play outside and explore new interests while not in an academic setting allows an enthusiasm that might not have existed before to be fostered.

During the summer, Salisbury Parks and Recreation organizes and runs several day camps to let kids have fun and maybe learn something new in the process. They begin around when school lets out and end before it starts back up. Information is usually sent out in December and January with registration beginning in the spring. The city has two kinds of camps: one is a specialty camp, and the other one is a “more traditional summer camp” according to Parks and Recreation Director Nick Aceves.

Last year, parks and recreation started offering the standard camp option again after not doing it since before Aceves joined the department. City council had wanted to add more youth programs to Salisbury, so when parks and recreation asked them for funds to reintroduce the camp, their request was approved. The camp goes on all day and is five days a week. The day camp has a pretty broad and flexible structure. Aceves says they play outdoors, do arts and crafts, have life skills training, and go on field trips with city staff acting as counselors.

Parks and recreation also have specialty camps where each one focuses a specific activity. These range from sports like basketball and softball to almost anything else like sewing and cooking.

“If you name it, we’ve probably done it,” Aceves said. “It can change each summer depending on where the staff feels there’s some interest or if there’s something cool and neat, they make look into it…They’ll feel it out during the year and think about something different just to switch it up.”

To help the kids better grasp the lessons, the city hires instructors that have knowledge and experience with each camp’s pursuit to teach alongside the staff. “They work with, what we call a contracted instructor, they work with that person to create the curriculum for that camp week,” Aceves said.

Meals are provided by the Rowan-Salisbury School System Summer Meals Program for free. In order to afford the instructors and equipment for all of the camps, campers need to pay a nominal entrance fee. The day camp costs $85 per week and the specialty camps generally go for $20 to $50 per week. It was important to the department that those costs be reasonable and not feel like a burden to families.

“We subsidize almost every camp to some degree. We don’t pass the full costs on to the participants. We try to recoup some because if we have to purchase special supplies or bring in special instructors, we do have to pay them,” Aceves said.

Overall, Aceves says the camps have been well received with many of them selling out. Parks and recreation plans on having the camps next summer, too. When it comes to the camps’ continued success, Aceves believes it comes down to the city staff and volunteers who run them and the kids who are eager to create new, lasting memories.

“Summers can be a grind, it’s hot, it takes up a lot of energy,” Aceves said. “The people that work these camps are special because they come in and give their energy and their time to work with kids and the public. It’s a great thing to see when they can pass on their passions to kids.”