Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Extended care makes for happy campers, parents

Working moms, dads find some relief with summer programs that open early and stay open late

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Andrew Marshall, head counselor at Camp Sonshine, makes sure campers are on the bus to department the Burtonsville-area camp at Hampshire View Baptist June 29.
For working parent Bernadette Dunn, summer can provide a scheduling dilemma.

Like many parents, Dunn decided to send her children to summer camp. However the multiple locations and varying schedules made it difficult. ‘‘We had to find [camp] times that allowed my husband to drop off in the morning and me to pick up in the afternoon,” said Dunn, 54, of Columbia.

Frustrated that Howard County camps couldn’t fit her needs, Dunn began looking at the Silver Spring area seven years ago. She finally settled on Camp Sonshine in 2000. Since that decision, her two children, Sean, now 18, and Lisa, now 15, have attended or been involved with the camp ever since.

Camp Sonshine, a faith-based summer camp, has its main location at Immanuel’s Church at 16819 New Hampshire Ave., another location at Hampshire Baptist Church on 360 Ednor Road, and one in Germantown.

A favorite for older campers is Camp Sonshine’s Teen Adventure program. The program involves trips all over Maryland, as well as visiting sites in Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In order to help working parents, many camps provide extended hours. Camp Sonshine and the Barrie Camp in Layhill run before-care from 7:15 a.m. to 9 a.m. and an after-care 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Teen Adventure director Bruce Dell and Barrie Camp director Peter Vogdes agree that campers who stay in the extended care get some advantages.

On a recent day at Camp Sonshine, extended-care campers congregated in the parking lot of Hampshire Baptist Church. Joking and laughing, they braved the hot sun and broke into separate games of volleyball and basketball. A number of counselors took part, making it hard to distinguish who was a camper and who was not.

‘‘We want to not only build special relationships between campers, but between campers and staff,” said Dell, who guessed that 25 percent of the camp stayed in extended care. ‘‘Campers that stay in extended time get to spend even more time with their counselors and get to build that relationship further.”

Vogdes noted that Barrie campers who stay in extended care get more time in the camp’s pool. ‘‘Campers tend to get excited about that.”

Many camps also provide bus service. At Camp Sonshine, parents can have their child picked up on one of the camp’s 14 bus routes.

‘‘Buses are essential,” said Barrie’s Vogdes.

But the biggest factor for parents when selecting a camp is the choice of available programs.

‘‘The major reason why we ultimately decided on [Camp Sonshine] was because of the activities and reputation,” said Adelphi resident Darrell Neily, whose son is in the Teen Adventure Program.

Barrie Camp focuses largely on the outdoor environment. Behind the camp office, campers from 4 to 14 years old can use the riding stables or swim in the pool. Vogdes can look out his window and see scores of campers chatting and eating lunch at a roundabout shaded by trees.

Near the entrance of the camp, older campers cover the sports fields. Vogdes noted that this sports group is a specialty session for older campers, which also includes a drama, karate and naturalist program.

Although those campers spend half of the day engaging in their specialty activity, they aren’t restricted from partaking in general camp activities, too.

‘‘We don’t want to take away the overall feel of being in a summer camp,” said Vogdes, who added the other half of the day involves swimming, nature walks and art.