Kids at York’s summer day camp take a bow

The halls of Vanier College went suddenly quiet this week. That’s because the last cohort campers at the York Youth Connection (YYC) summer day camp have headed home to prepare for school.

Many in the York community have grown used to seeing the giggling and energetic group of eight to 14 year olds. From giving a spontaneous cheer at the recent flash picnic for staff to showing off their new-found skills in theatre, visual arts, environmental studies and sports, the youngest members of the University community are sure to be missed.

Family and friends of the York Youth Connection summer day camp
Right: Family and friends of the York Youth Connection summer day camp joined special guests Jennifer Sloan, York vice-president university relations  (far right), and Sandra Pyke, president of the York University Retirees Association (second from right), at the summer showcase finale

On Friday, Aug. 19, the campers presented their final summer showcase to parents, York community members and friends of the University.

Carolyn McDougall, manager of community relations at York University, introduced the showcase. She prefaced her comments by saying that she had joined the University in January 2011 and was very new to the YYC experience. Once she learned more about the camp, McDougall said she was “blown away” by the energy and enthusiasm of campers and staff.

“We are celebrating our 36th successful summer,” said McDougall to the crowd gathered for the showcase. “I know that campers have been very busy,” she said. “All told, our volunteers have clocked 1,680 hours. Thank you for your help.”

YYC cheer from campersLeft: The showcase started with a rousing YYC cheer

“One of the cornerstones of YYC is that it is a place where the University can embrace children from neighbouring communities and give faculties and departments an opportunity to engage with the camp,” said McDougall. “This year we were thrilled to partner with the School of Kinesiology & Health Sciences and the Faculty of Education in developing programming for our campers.” McDougall said the partnerships provided opportunities to advance research and student learning.

In addition, to speaking about the support from the numerous business units and faculties within the University, McDougall took time to thank the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund and Toronto Community Services for providing financial subsidies for some of the campers, giving them the opportunity to attend the camp.

She gave special thanks to the Government of Canada for assistance from its Summer Jobs Program, and to the YMCA of Greater Toronto and the Government of Ontario for wage subsidies for camp staff. She also thanked the engineering firm SNC Lavalin and the York University Retirees Association for their financial support of the camp and to Vanier College and college master Professor Stanley Tweyman for providing space and support for the camp.

McDougall then turned the floor over to the camp counsellors, program specialists and children for the two-hour showcase. Before each section, the audience was given a description of what they could expect by the campers and program specialists.

For the first demonstration, campers in the art group displayed their understanding of abstract art. “This week in art, we made sculptures using steel wire, plaster and paint,” announced one of the members. “Each camper made their own design and created their own sculpture. The sculptures showed our creativity in using design and colour.”

The campers demonstrated their understanding of the visual arts by working together to paint in the manner pioneered by American abstract artist Jackson Pollock. One by one the campers flicked, threw and poured paint on the sculpture. Campers

Right: Campers demonstrate their “Jackson Pollock” art technique

Following the visual arts demonstration, campers gave highlights about what they learned in sports, sportsmanship and the game of football. “This session focused our attention on football, techniques and gave us what we needed to play the game,” said a camper, explaining how the campers had also learned about the importance of lifelong physical fitness. The campers then demonstrated a rousing football cheer and huddle, in a reenactment of team sportsmanship and spirit rituals.

The results of the visual arts activitiesLeft: The results of the visual arts activities

“We learned throwing and catching techniques as well as set patterns such as five- and ten-yard slams, a hitch and a fly,” said one of the campers. “We put all of our practice together to play a friendly game of two-man touch football.”

During the intermission, senior YYC camper “Declan” played the ukulele and sang the classic Beatles’ anthem Hey Jude.

The ecoscience group then demonstrated what they had learned about how sound travels through air by making a speaking string. The group talked about how the human eye works and demonstrated how they had made simple cameras and performed eye tests and tricks. As part of the unit, campers made a model arm and by doing so, learned how muscles worked. “Many of our muscles work in pairs like the strings in our model arm,” explained a camper. The group also made model thermometers to Camperslearn about temperature.

Right: Huddle!

The final program area presented was in drama and featured campers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a phrase highlighting one positive thing about each student. Comments like “I am athletic. I am smart. I am a good singer. I am brave. I am fearless, I am kind and I am happy,” were some of the phrases on the campers’ T-shirts.

“The focus of this week was increasing self esteem and we were asked to speak about one unique attribute and share it with other members of the group,” said the camper introducing the presentation. Students danced and mimed their way through the inspirational song Who Says by American singer Selena Gomez.

 Self esteem was the focus of the YYC campers' dance routine
Above: Self esteem was the focus of the YYC campers’ dance routine

The camp hands out citizenship and sportsmanship awards at the end of each session. Camp volunteers were also recognized for their work to make the camp successful. (Many of the volunteers are former campers who are working to become camp leaders.) York Vice-President University Relations Jennifer Sloan was a special guest of honour and handed out the certificates to each of the recipients.

To end the showcase, the camp staff prepared a private video for parents that offered insight into what the YYC experience means to campers, volunteers, leaders in training and staff.

For more than 36 years, the camp has been providing a safe, fun and enriching experience for children and youth ages eight to 14 on the Keele campus. With a great mix of visual arts, theatre, physical activity and eco-science programming, children spend the summer exploring, learning and making friends. Activities and trips are planned in line with each camp session’s unique theme. YYC also offers a leadership development program for youth ages 13 and 14 focused on developing strong leadership skills and teamwork. The camp is dependent upon external funding and donations for its operations. To learn more about how to support the camp, contact Carolyn McDougall at ext. 77529.

YYC campers come from diverse backgrounds. They are expected and encouraged to be kind and helpful to one another. While some of their day is in camp-wide activities, they also spend time in smaller groups where they have they focus on developmentally appropriate activities.