For some children, this is what it looked like during the little amount of down time at the first-ever Foothills Day Camp.
Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston hosted Foothills Day Camp last week. The camp, housed at Camp Lee, is designed for children ages 6-10 who would otherwise not have the opportunity to go to summer camp.
The camp is modeled after the Sawyerville Work Project, according to Lee Shafer, the priest at Grace Episcopal.
According to the Sawyerville Work Project website, the camp in Hale County is “an annual camp for economically disadvantaged children and youth in the Black Belt of our state.”
Shafer said the idea was just too great to be kept in the Black Belt.
Here’s a look at what 50 kids from Calhoun County got to experience as a part of Foothills Day Camp:
After the campers got off the bus, they were ready to go swimming — an event they are all prepared for because each camper received a new swimsuit, towel, bag and water bottle.
Once swimming ended, the campers broke into groups for activities. Activities changed depending on the day, and included a rock slide, canoeing, volleyball and a zip-line across the lake.
Canoeing was on Thursday. Ten canoes slowly filled the lake. Excited squeals could be heard across the water as canoes bumped into each other. On the other side of the lake, kids in canoes were getting stuck on the bank, but smiling while doing it.
Counselors standing on the bank looked out at the smiling campers and murmured to themselves that these kids were making memories today.
“I just love watching the kids (in the canoes),” one counselor said, with a smile in his eye. “I think the word that comes to mind is, joy.”
A few minutes later, it was time for the main program to begin. The energy level in the room was high while kids sang worship songs and danced around.Ê
After lunch, the kids rotated between three activities: arts and crafts, story time and games.
The craft room walls were filled with self-portraits made by the campers on one of their first days at camp. Kelona’s self-portrait showed a bright-eyed girl with wavy, dark hair. The space around her face was filled with pictures and descriptions of things she likes. “I have a brother and a sister,” Kelona wrote. “I have a dog named Bow Bow, he’s a poddle.” Purple hearts, peace signs and a picture of Bow Bow and Kelona’s siblings accompanied her portrait.
On one of the craft tables lay a banner lined with footprints. These footprints belonged to the staff of Foothills Day Camp. The art teacher could be heard telling counselors in the room to “add some personality to that foot.” The banner will be used for years to come.
Thursday’s craft involved Shrinky Dinks. Campers and counselors colored plastic foot-shaped cutouts with crazy colors and interesting designs. When they were finished, they brought them to the art teacher to be super-heated. They watched as their plastic feet shrunk down to small charms that could be strung onto necklaces.
Ciara Byrdsong, age 7, said that her favorite part of camp was arts and crafts. A big hit earlier in the week were the stuffed snakes that campers made out of men’s neckties.
Ayania Stone, age 6, excitedly said that her favorite part of camp was “swimming, because I just learned how to swim!”
After crafts, the campers rotated to another activity. It was story time.
Groups of kids sat on the floor munching on juicy pickles and snack packs filled with fruity cereal, chips and pretzels, while listening to a story told by Andrew Harris, the youth director at Grace Episcopal.
With all the attractions and activities that Foothills Day Camp had to offer, Shafer said one of the biggest hits of the week was … the pickles.
Eleven-year-old Alex Hawkins would have to agree. Around 11 a.m., Hawkins was already working on his fourth pickle, and had No. 5 waiting for him in his other hand.
One unique aspect of Foot Hills Day camp is that “we’re really doing two camps,” Shafer said.
It was a day camp from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. for the kids, but the youth staff stayed for overnight camp, she said.Ê
The staff of 25 volunteers came from all over Alabama, and was a very diverse group, from multiple denominations and backgrounds, Shafer said.
She noted that the youth volunteers were from all over the area, specifically from The Donoho School and Anniston High School.
“What I think we’re really doing is building bridges in Calhoun County,” Shafer said. Shafer said that they are already planning for next year’s Foothills Day Camp.
Camp counselor Kenyatta Davis, 18, from Birmingham, said that he loved volunteering as a counselor. “It gets stressful, but you still have fun,” he said. “I know I’m going to be back next year.”
Davis noted that volunteering at a church camp has been a very rewarding experience. “When you do it for the church, you get closer to God and closer to the kids,” he said.
Jamia Haynes, 16, a counselor from Anniston High, agreed. “It’s amazing to see these kids smile,” she said.
At the end of the day, campers loaded the buses for home, carrying with them their colorful creations as well as newfound friendships and memories of a summer day.