Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 28
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
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Princeton YMCA Campers Compete in Their Own “Discovery” Olympics

Ellen Gilbert

“Capture the (Rubber) Chicken” is definitely not among the events at the upcoming Beijing Olympics, but it figured prominently in the Princeton YMCA Discovery Camp’s “Olympic”activities last week.

Based at Johnson Park School, Discovery Camp welcomes between 100 and 150 campers, ages 4 through 15, each week. Continuing for ten weeks and offering an inclusive day from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., enrollment for the camp is done on a week-by-week basis, affording families the flexibility of skipping a week here and there to visit the grandparents or go to the beach. About half the camp stays for the entire summer, and there’s still room for those interested in remaining summer weeks, although the “last blast” — the final week of camp before Labor Day — tends to fill up fast, according to camp director Kevin Walsh.

YMCA Chief Executive Officer Kate Bech noted that the camp is a particular favorite of parents who come to work in the Princeton area from places like Hillsborough, Lawrence, Plainsboro, and West Windsor, and can drop their children off in the morning, and pick them up on the way home at the end of the day.

Drawing from within Princeton as well as its environs is a key element in the Y’s philosophy, according to Ms. Bech, who described the varied backgrounds of participants as “leveling the playing field.” A number of campers are on scholarship, which accounts for the fact that $50,000 of the Y’s total of $70,000 available for financial aid has already been allocated. “We responded to the demand, and the funds are completely expended at this point,” said Ms. Bech, who hopes that outside donations will be forthcoming.

Preceding the capture-the-chicken finale (not to mention a barbecue lunch on the last day), events at last week’s YMCA Olympics included relay races, obstacle course challenges, water relays, and kickball. Swimming and water activities take place all summer at the Princeton Theological Seminary’s pool in West Windsor.

In addition to yellow, Olympic team colors included red, green, and blue, and each is significant, explained Mr. Walsh. “We broke the groups down according to the Y’s core values,” he explained. The red team represented “caring,” the blues stood for “honesty,” the yellow team symbolized “respect,” and the greens stood for “responsibility.” These values are rewarded all summer long, he said. When a camper holds the door for others on any given day, for example, it is acknowledged during “community,” the all-camp get-togethers that mark the beginning and end of each camp day. Parents who arrive early to pick up their youngsters can attest to the hearty, rousing songs that characterize afternoon community.

Last Thursday, Mr. Walsh noted, the 15-year-old counselors-in-training (CITs) were doing yeoman service by carrying food and supplies to the barbecue site, and they would be duly acknowledged later that afternoon. Before that, though, the mix of character-building and fun continued with the arrival of a fire truck that provided a much-welcome cooling spray for the happy Olympians.

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