(Colebrook, CT) Ten-year-old Hartford resident Ezequiel Lopez was annoyed four summers ago when his mom first signed him up for overnight camp at Camp Jewell YMCA in Colebrook.
“The first year I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay home and play video games. When I got here, it was pretty cool. They had a farm and a waterfront. I could go swimming,” said Ezequiel, who goes to school in Windsor Locks through the Hartford Region Open Choice program.
Ezequiel quickly grew excited about being at camp and was so eager to return the following year that he packed his bag a month in advance. This is his fourth summer at Camp Jewell YMCA and he plans on returning “till I’m a camp counselor.”
Ezequiel is among dozens of students in a CREC-managed program or CREC magnet school who are attending the camp free of charge through scholarships offered by Camp Jewell YMCA. CREC received spots this summer for 100 kids, some of which CREC shared with Hartford Public Schools and community organizations.
The scholarship program is part of an effort to serve kids from Greater Hartford and to bring diversity to the camp. The initiative started in 2012 after program leaders realized that hardly any of their campers came from Hartford or New Britain.
“We are the YMCA of Greater Hartford and we should be serving kids from Greater Hartford,” said Ray Zetye, Executive Director of Camp Jewell YMCA.
Ray sees the program benefitting all campers, not just those attending on scholarship. Diversity, he said, exposes kids to different life experiences and prepares them for the years ahead when they interact with people from varying backgrounds.
“We’re creating more empathetic adults through this program,” said Ray. “My dream is to have a cabin with a couple of kids from Hartford, three or four kids from the suburbs, a kid from Spain. I want to have religious diversity, all different dimensions of diversity.”
Camp Jewell YMCA is set on 540 acres of majestic woodlands right next to a lake. Although kids follow a rigid daily schedule, they choose which activities to participate in. Their options include, horseback riding, theater, pottery, archery, swimming, boating, outdoor cooking, among other traditional camp activities.
Ezequiel enthusiastically described playing Zombie Apocalypse, similar to a game of tag where players become zombies when they are touched by other zombies.
This is also the fourth summer at camp for Jada Mann, a 12-year-old from CREC Two Rivers Middle School. Jada enjoys candle-making, swimming. She’s taken basketball clinics, and practiced outdoor cooking. Her favorite thing about camp is making friends.
Seven-year-old Uriel Vaughn is experiencing his first year here. He is, “Excited because it’s very cool.”
“For a lot our kids, it’s their first time being outside of an urban environment or being away from their families. They get to explore a new environment, make friends and learn to be self-sufficient,” said Eric Crawford, director of the CREC Trude Mero Family Resource Center, during a site visit at the camp last week.
Crawford and his staff manage the camp scholarships given to CREC. They recruit students to attend and make routine site visits to check up on the kids.
The initiative started with approximately 10 students. It’s grown to about 450, with scholarships offered to students through organizations like CREC, Hartford Public Library, International Institute of Connecticut, Legacy Foundation, and Catholic Charities.
Approximately 1,300 kids between the ages of 7 and 16 from Greater Hartford to Fairfield County, as well as China, Spain and the Dominican Republic, participate in the residential camp program each year. The program runs four two-week sessions between June and August.
The Capitol Region Education Council was established in 1966. Working with and for its member districts, CREC has developed a wide array of cost-effective and high-quality programs and services to meet the educational needs of children and adults in the region. CREC brings nearly five decades of experience in education, regional collaboration, and operations to provide innovative strategies and products that address the changings needs of school districts and their students, corporations, non-profits, and individual professions. CREC regularly serves 36 towns in Greater Hartford, offering more than 120 programs to more than 150,000 students annually. CREC manages more than 35 facilities throughout the area, including 16 interdistrict magnet schools. More information about CREC and CREC’s award-winning schools is available at www.crec.org.