After spending some time playing four square and Uno in Dickey Park, the group of campers at Camp REAL got to take a break from the heat and tour the Newark Police Station on Wednesday.
“It helps them learn more about these authority figures and how they can assist in success,” said camp counselor Lillie Wilson. “The officers can humanize their role.”
The trip to the police station – where the campers got to meet officers, tour the holding cell area and sit in an undercover police car – was just one part of the free camp’s offerings.
Camp REAL – which stands for recreation, exploration, adventure and leadership – began in 2015 with the goal to keep campers busy during the summer with educational and enriching activities, said Sharon Bruen, recreation supervisor for the Newark Parks and Recreation Department.
The camp is free and runs from 9 a.m. to noon for eight weeks during the summer on weekdays, weather permitting.
Camp REAL was created to provide summer activities for kids in the underprivileged College Park neighborhood that surrounds Dickey Park.
So far, the campers have visited WVUD, the University of Delaware’s radio station; Carousel Farms Equestrian Center; and Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Company’s Station 7.
“We want to teach them about different careers, educational opportunities and leisure time activities,” Bruen said.
Beyond field trips around Newark, Bruen said that the campers have been learning new skills, like knitting, swimming and music. On Wednesdays, they sometimes get to participate in yoga with instructor Valerie Lane.
For camper Michael Baxter, swimming in the Dickey Park pool was a highlight.
“I know how to swim now,” he noted.
He and sister Brianna agreed that they like going to camp together as siblings. They enjoy the different activities, like painting rocks and drawing, as well as meeting new friends.
“I like hanging out with friends because we learn new stuff,” Brianna said, noting that fellow camper Gabriel Brown taught her about Pokemon Go.
Through the activities – like field trips, arts and crafts and exercise – the counselors hope to instill teamwork.
“They’re going to need that outside of here,” Wilson said. “We want them to take away the experience of being able to work with people who are different than you.”
Wilson, a first-time counselor in the program, said the program ranges from about 12 to 15 campers per day, with about 20 to 30 kids on the roster.
“Getting to know the kids is rewarding,” she said.
Daniel Ahn, a camper who has spent several summers at the camp, said one of Camp REAL’s strengths is its size.
“It doesn’t have like 500 kids,” he said. “We get to know each other.”