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Summer is coming! Read the Denver Post Summer Camp Guide 2010

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It might have been a wonderful experience at age 10, hiking or acting or painting and, most important, bonding with a handful of great friends. Or perhaps it was a memorable moment swimming, splashing and laughing with buddies when life’s future seemed as brilliant as the sky overhead.

For some camp directors, childhood experiences at summer camp affected them so deeply they moved into the field, often from counselor up the ranks to director. For others, the fact they weren’t able to attend camp was a strong incentive to reach out to kids. We spoke with the directors of five summer camp programs to find out what inspired them to a job that requires long hours, a ton of patience and a whole lot of love.

(Photo: Horseback riding is among the activities at YMCA Camp Shady Brook in Deckers.)


The Denver Post Summer Camp Guide

View the full list of day camps.

View the full list of overnight camps.

Featured camps and special deals.


Marty Ferguson, Camp Chief Ouray director

Camp Chief Ouray, part of the YMCA of the Rockies, is Colorado’s oldest camp, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008.

And Ferguson, who has been a director at the camp near Granby for more than six years, is proud to be one of many of the threads woven into the blanket that brings warmth and joy to so many kids.

“I didn’t go to camp as a kid,” says Ferguson, 38. “I started as a counselor at a camp in Michigan, and I fell in love with it. It’s a calling. When I see the awe and wonder of learning these kids have, I wish I had that opportunity, no matter how great my childhood was.”

The camp offers everything from arts and crafts to swimming to horseback riding.

And a lot of the counselors know the camp well.

“Our campers range in age from 7 to 17,” he says. “As they get older, they progress and can learn to become counselors. Last summer, we had five counselors who had been in the same cabin when they were 10 years old.”

Lisa Townsend, Adams Camp program director

When she graduated from college, Townsend knew she wanted to be a teacher. She quickly discovered how to put her talents to good use.

“I started as a music therapist,” says Townsend, 30. “It sounds hokey, but I feel blessed. I call this ‘heart work.’ ”

Adams Camp welcomes kids with special needs, like cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome and other diagnoses that cause developmental delays.

They also help the families of these kids.

“There are two programs: therapy camps, which are family-centered, and our adventure programs, which are sleep-away camps.”

During the therapy camps, therapists from all fields, from speech to music, work intensively with the special-needs child.

“What’s nice is that it’s a respite for the family,” Townsend says. “Siblings can come have a great time in a traditional camp environment. Mom and Dad can have time alone, and a chance to talk with other parents and share experiences. I love my job because I feel like I’m making a real impact.”

Pam Hueseman, director, Aurora Recreation Program and Camp Cook-A-Munga

When asked if she attended camp as a child, Hueseman laughs loudly.

“Oh, no, no. We were a huge family and we were way too poor.”

In a way, that inspired her passion for cooking. “My mother had to teach all of us to cook,” says Hueseman, 54.

“I’ve noticed that these days, working mothers and fathers are often too busy to teach their children to cook. A parent comes home exhausted, and it’s easier to just cook something quickly than spend time teaching a child cooking skills.”

That’s why Camp Cook-A-Munga, part of the recreation program run by the city of Aurora, is so popular, she says.

“It’s a really popular class, and it’s affordable, so that helps these days.”

There’s a long list of skills the kids learn in the class, says Hueseman, who has two children she’s coached in culinary skills.

“When they cook, they learn to organize, read, follow directions, and they learn math skills. They learn to work in a group.”

Chris Hegele, Denver Academy director of summer programs

The best part of his job, says Hegele, is that he’s constantly learning.

“They teach me so much. The kids might make you nuts, but at the end of the day, you’re thankful to be doing what you’re doing.”

Many of those who participate in the camp, Hegele says, have learning differences. Most have average or above aptitudes, but struggle in traditional educational settings, and Denver Academy has a highly respected diagnostic process, he says.

“These students aren’t here to win awards,” says Hegele, 53. “We teach them to be respectful of each other. We create a sense of community. And we stress this: They’re here to have fun.”

Lisa Mumpton, Teen Acting Camp, director of educational theater

When she was a teen, Mumpton attended a two-week theater camp, and the experience helped her understand her passion in life.

“It was inspirational to me,” says Mumpton, 47. “It’s the reason I’m doing this now.”

The camp — held at Aurora’s performing arts center, the Aurora Fox — hires only professionals to work with teens.

“They’ve dedicated their lives not just to performing, but to teaching these skills,” says Mumpton, 47.

“It’s so rewarding to watch the kids grow over two weeks. You get to see huge strides in confidence and ability in such an intensive program. Our kids are all eager and excited.”


Seven tips for families on tight budgets

With the dismal economy, sending a child to camp might seem a luxury many families are unable to afford.

But Betsy Thamert, director for Rocky Mountain American Camp Association, says families will tend to cut extras like dining out from the budget to enable their children to get to camp.

“What we’re seeing is that the kids who have been to camp before are the ones who continue to enroll,” Thamert says. “It’s more challenging to attract new families, but those who have sent kids to camp before understand the importance of the experience.”

She notes that no camp director wants to turn a child away and offers these tips for families who are working with a tight budget:

• Ask for financial help from camp. Around 90 percent of camps offer some sort of financial assistance.

• Those who enroll early, or pay early, may save money.

• Look for discounts for multiple siblings. If you have two or more children attending the same camp, you often will save money.

• Many camps offer savings for kids who have returned to a camp they attended in the past.

• Some agencies will offer a discount to members of organizations. For example, if you’re a member of the YMCA, your family may be eligible for a camp discount.

• Some camps may offer a discount if you refer another camper to them.

• Ask about payment plans.


A camp confab

What: American Camp Association 2010 National Conference will include a wide array of educational programs, keynote addresses, social-networking opportunities, and an expansive exhibit hall. Open to all camp professionals, from camp directors to counselors, cook to maintenance worker.

Where: Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, 650 15th St.

When: Feb. 16-19

Cost: Varies by program. Scholarships available.

Information: acacamps.org/conference/

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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