Creatively Crafting Camps

Photo Courtesy of Sugar Sand Park Community Center

On a typical Monday morning at SugarSandParkCommunity Center in Boca Raton, Fla., I walked out of my office only to see some bustling actors taking their places on stage. The production assistant ordered “Quiet on the set” as the director dropped his hand and yelled “Action!” I quietly passed through a chorus of Broadway hopefuls rehearsing Mama Mia , singing and dancing their way across the stage. Following the choreographer’s directions, the performers lit up the scene with synchronized movements. Farther down the hallway, I visited the science lab where students were gathering data and conducting experiments next door to a room full of future engineers who were too busy programming robots to even notice me. I took a moment to watch the future entrepreneurs sharpen their business skills and network on the putting green outside.

Photo Courtesy of Sugar Sand Park Community Center

This is a typical summer day at the park where dreams become reality for the children in specialty camps. The camps go beyond the conventional to offer experiences that encourage students to explore their interests and exercise creativity while learning new skills from industry professionals.

Each year, we have sought to build on the specialty camps by offering more diverse programming to meet the needs of the community. The camps offer local businesses an opportunity to show what they do and help develop young minds. Parents are offered a safe place for their children to be creative and grow throughout the summer. Also, the revenues are increased while local high school and college students are provided with volunteer possibilities.

Opportunities Abound

Summers in South Florida are historically a slower season at the community center. Daytime classes for adults drop off with instructors and participants travelling north to visit relatives and spend their summers elsewhere. Groups that use the rooms throughout the year stop meeting for the same reason. By adding specialty camps, we have been able to maximize facility usage. Last year, the city offered 4,000 camp spaces to local children. Specialty camps accounted for more than 900 of those available spaces because meeting rooms were available for independent contractors to run the specialty camps.

Over the years, we have worked with companies as far north as Canada and as far south as Fort Lauderdale. We seek out companies with experience in teaching in a camp environment and those that have instructors with credentials in their field. There are also local instructors who teach throughout the year and hold camps for small groups of children. We engage in 70/30 splits with camp directors just as we do with the normal weekly classes held in the center throughout the year. The addition of specialty camps has helped increase revenue 67 percent over the past 2 years.

Local teens may also gain work experience and collect volunteer hours by assisting directors as counselors throughout the summer. Volunteers are matched with camps that best match their interests. Through the summer, these volunteers worked more than 4,000 hours to help make these camps successful.

Break Time

When they aren’t engaged in learning activities, students enrolled in specialty camps can take advantage of the many amenities the park has to offer: riding on a carousel, splashing in the water feature located in the center of a three-story, science-themed playground, or interacting with exhibits in the hands-on Children’s Science Explorium. These features ensure that campers enjoy their breaks while continuing to learn. They have fun outside in the open green spaces where they can enjoy time-tested summer staples such as pie fights, pudding-eating contests, and water balloons. And when they want to explore nature, they can take a walk on the trails to observe the plants and wildlife that reside in the 132-acre park. Every aspect of the park is designed to provide children with the perfect combination of both educational and physical activity.

The Friday Finale

As Friday ends a week of specialty camps, the red carpet is rolled out for the amateur filmmakers to show off their work to family and friends at the camp’s own film festival. Dancers and singers take to the stage to perform in costume for their adoring fans while the billionaires celebrate their success with the grand opening of the ice cream shop. This grand finale gives the kids a chance to demonstrate how hard they have worked by putting their newly acquired skills and talents to use. Friends and family pack the park to see the filmmakers, scientists, engineers, stage actors, and entrepreneurs explore their passions by doing what they love.

Briann Harms is the recreation center supervisor for the SugarSandParkCommunity Center in Boca Raton, Fla. Reach her at (561) 347-3900.