Many people have fond memories of summer camp — swimming, arts and crafts, making new friends. The 175 boys and girls now are taking part in Slidell Recreation Department’s summer camp are having the kind of experiences that they, too, will remember for years to come.
But for the 16 counselors and support staff members working at the camp, there’s something more. Not only are they re-living their own camp experiences, they’re also helping set the tone for today’s participants.
It’s part of the tradition of the recreation department’s summer camp, which for many decades has been one of the coolest spots to be during the hottest months of the year.
The epicenter for the 2016 camp is the Fritchie Park Gymnasium, but frequent field trips keep both campers and counselors hopping. Six- and eight-week camps are offered to children 6- to 12-years-old.
The counselors are mostly college students. They all come with good references, and are interviewed by department staff before being hired. Most have experience working with children, and almost all have attended summer camp as well.
Brian Nicaud Jr., a 21-year-old business management major at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, attended the Slidell summer camp when he was 12. This is his third year working as a counselor. He looks forward to the experience each year.
“You’re putting back into them what the counselors put into you a long time ago,” Nicaud said. “It’s giving back. I played dodgeball for the first time when I was at camp. A lot of the kids don’t know the games we grew up with, even 10 years ago. There’s a gap.”
Nicaud said electronics may have something to do with that, noting that no phones or computer games are allowed at camp.
“Some of them, they really don’t know what to do without that,” he said. “You can’t just let them run around. It’s up to us to come up with things to do (that will keep them interested.)”
Tiauni Julian, 19, is a communications major at Xavier University in New Orleans. She said building communications skills is important when the youngsters come to camp.
“Technology makes things a lot easier, when you can send a text rather than going up to meet someone. You come to camp, and ‘Oh wow. I actually have to meet people. I have to go up and introduce myself to get into a game.’ (They can do it,) but summer camp without the electronics is like another form of school (for some kids.)”
LSU student Zachary Girten, 20, said it takes patience to work with a young crowd, but the experience is fulfilling.
“It reminds you of when you were that age, and you look back at it and imagine when they’re playing … there’s a story going on. They’re creating ... I think me going to summer camp had a lot to do with me wanting to apply for this job.”
Angela Burkett, program director for 6- to 8-year-olds, and has been working the camp for 18 years.
“This is fun,” she said. “When we put them in the car (to go home,) they tell their parents ‘I had so much fun! I did this, and did this! The parents tell us their kids had so much fun with us, when they get home, they go straight to sleep because they’re tired out from all the fun here.”
“This is my favorite time of year,” said Jennifer Drennan of the Slidell Recreation Department. “It’s great to see all the kids come back and see how much they’ve grown. I like to see their faces when they see their friends that they’ve haven’t seen since the past summer. They’re excited, and that’s exciting to us.”