Salvation Army summer day camp: Planting spiritual seeds in a safe environment

Photo by Sue Suchyta
In addition to offering a latchkey program during the school year, the Downriver Salvation Army at 1258 Biddle in Wyandotte offers a structured summer day camp program with field trips, arts and crafts and other indoor and outdoor activities. Returning and newly enrolled summer day camp participants playing with Lego blocks during after-school latchkey are Mickenzie Schram (left), 6; Donavon Potter, 7; Dakota Gardner, 11; Keeley Theisen, 7; Ava Miles, 8; and Alxandrya Schram, 5, of Wyandotte.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – For Dakota Gardner, 11, friends, fun and field trips were the highlights of last summer’s Downriver Salvation Army summer day camp.

“I’ve been here for a little while and know everybody and usually have a really fun time,” Gardner, who will be a sixth-grader at Wyandotte’s Wilson Middle School in the fall, said. “You can be yourself.”

The program, at the Salvation Army’s location at 1258 Biddle in Wyandotte, features field trips, arts and crafts and other indoor and outside activities for kindergarten through eighth graders.

“The parents know that this is a very safe environment for their kids, and they know that the staff cares about the kids and they’re going to take very good care of them,” Lynda Boehme, Downriver Salvation Army community center director, said.

“We care about them and we want them to grow up to be good… well-rounded individuals, responsible young adults. That’s important for us.”

She said they expect 75 children to take part in the June 18 to Aug. 10 summer day camp program. The main program runs from 8:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with latchkey available from 6:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

The cost for 5 to 10-year-olds is $70 a week for the main program, or $115 with latchkey care included. The program for children entering sixth through 8th grades is $85 a week for the summer day camp or $148 with latchkey.

The Downriver Salvation Army has offered a summer day camp since 1978, Boehme said, and it was initially free. As they began offering more activities and hiring staff, they began to charge a fee to continue to run a good program, she said.

Their summer day camp budget is down about $17,000 this year, Boehme said, adding they received very few donations this year and could use funding to buy basic supplies and offer summer day camp scholarships to families who cannot afford it.

“We run on a shoestring budget as it is, so we need craft supplies… balls, equipment-type things,” Boehme said. “The economy’s bad… and maybe some of the people that donated before… just don’t have the finances any more. I don’t know what it is, but we just keep praying about it. I know the Lord is going to provide – He always does.”

She said while they are a Christian organization known for their social services, activities and food, they also have summer programs for children.

The summer program includes object and Bible lessons and vacation Bible school, and service projects like cleaning up a park.

“There’s nothing better than planting a seed and letting the Lord take care of the rest of it,” Boehme said. “We water, and He grows.”

Gardner said one water activity stands out in his mind: A squirt gun battle on a warm day in the park behind the Wyandotte Salvation Army building.

“When we had the water war — it was basically every man for himself and you’d run around with your water gun spraying as many people as you can and trying not to get wet,” Gardner said.

Donavon Potter, 7, of Wyandotte, said he hopes summer day camp has one or more field trips to a water adventure park. He said wants to swim underwater this year after learning from his dad last year.

He said his other summer dreams include seeing lions and elephants at a zoo, going on the merry-go-round in the park, playing dodge ball in the onsite gym and building with Lego blocks with wheels “so I can make police cars and stuff.”

The latchkey director, Linda Bercaw, said the best part of her job is watching the children have fun doing the different activities and watching them grow.

“We keep them pretty busy,” Bercaw said. “We don’t have a lot of down time — so we are on the go, go, go, go. And they are exhausted when they leave and so are we. But it’s so much fun.”

Lori Sieli, the assistant latch key director who has spent four summers with the program, agreed that the best part about being with the children is watching them have fun.

“It’s a very good program because it also teaches them.” Sieli said. “The people that work together here are a wonderful group of people. They really love the kids.”

She said that she is glad they are not at home watching TV, playing video games and being bored during the summer.

“They’re enjoying going on our field trips; they’re enjoying being able to go out and play out in the back in our park; they enjoy being in the gym playing dodge ball,” Sieli said. “They have lots of fun things to do.”

Boehme would like to take the children on more field trips if they had money for gas for the bus the Woodhaven Kiwanis let them borrow.

She would like to take the children in the summer day camp program to The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Air Zoo of Kalamazoo and the Salvation Army Camp Echo Grove near Portage for a three-day camp out if the Downriver Salvation Army received monetary donations to cover the program costs.

“I like working with the kids – I love working with them,” Boehme said. “And I know how important we are to the parents.”

She said their summer program is more than babysitting.

“We actually work with the kids and try to provide them all hands-on (attention),” she said. “It’s very gratifying to know that we’re providing a place where we know the kids, we’re doing the best that we can for the kids, and we’re giving them the best opportunities that we can possibly give them and their parents know that they’re safe here.”

For more information about the Downriver Salvation Army summer program, call (734) 282-0930, ext. 107, or go to Send donations to the Salvation Army at 1258 Biddle, Wyandotte 48192.