College students bring summer camp fun to High Desert
June 16, 2011
FORT IRWIN, Calif.- Richelle Goree, a junior fine arts major at Florida A&M;University, heard stories about scorpions being in her bathtub, snakes in her bed and other creepy crawlers running amok in the High Desert before she arrived at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin, Calif., three weeks ago.
“I was prepared,” Goree said, as she took a brief break from her duties as a Camp Adventure counselor at Fort Irwin’s School Age Services building.
Goree along with Alisha Patton, a senior early childhood education major from the University of Toledo; Madelina Parkin, a junior liberal arts major from Chico State University; and Alyssa Dyall and Vanessa Hilst Robles from the University of Northern Iowa, chose to spend their summers working with children at Fort Irwin through the Camp Adventure program, which is run by the University of Northern Iowa.
The program recruits and trains unpaid staff to run youth services programs on military installations and has partnerships with more than 80 colleges and universities across the nation.
“It’s great to be able to sing silly songs and dance with the kids and give them something different instead of people who they’re around 24/7,” Goree said. “During the first week the kids just looked at us, but now they dance and sing along with us.”
One of the initial challenges in being a camp counselor involved singing the camp songs to the same words as each training program teaches the songs with a slightly different flavor, she said, adding that each morning’s pre-camp meeting ensures everyone is on the same sheet of music.
For Parkin, the drive onto the installation was bit strange as the closer the group got to Fort Irwin, the fewer and fewer buildings they saw, she said.
“This is my first time being on a military installation, so I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “However, it’s just like a normal community for the most part.”
Before arriving at Fort Irwin, Parkin said the group got to know each other via Facebook and other communications tools, which made the initial transition fairly easy.
“We all get along and we’re having a great time,” she said, noting that the experience will help as she prepares to become a teacher after graduation.
As the camp director, this summer is the second time Patton has participated in Camp Adventure as her first assignment was in Roda, Spain.
“I worked in a child development center, so this is a different experience,” she said. “You have to be constantly aware of what’s going on around you.”
The children at Fort Irwin are more mature than the children she works with in Ohio, because they’ve been exposed to a lot more than non-military children, she said.
While the camp counselors are gaining valuable education experience and college credits, Fort Irwin Child Development Center director Veronica Gonzales said the children at Fort Irwin are the true winners in the program.
“Unlike other places you don’t have the option of a YMCA or something like and I wanted to bring the summer camp atmosphere to Fort Irwin,” Gonzalez said, noting this is the second year Fort Irwin has had a Camp Adventure program.
Fort Irwin School Age Services assistant director Cynthia Maples said the weekly camps average between 70 and 85 campers each week.
“It helps kids to build trust and relationships in others and the camp staff,” Maples said.