Activities, Games, Classes For Hartford's Children
June 27, 2007
By NIRAJ CHOKSHI, Courant Staff Writer
When a free day camp opens Thursday, 16-year-old Natalie Mercado will be there for the 10th straight summer, this time as a counselor. It's the same camp that Elaine Mobley, 71, attended free more than 60 years ago.
For 113 years, Camp Courant has been giving Hartford kids a respite from the city, making it the nation's oldest free day camp. This year it will offer water activities, games, sports and an array of classes and instruction.
Executive Director Elizabeth Gibbs said she expects 900 to 1,000 children a day at the camp in the Farmington Valley. It is open to all Hartford children aged 5 to 12 and provides free transportation, free breakfast and free lunch.
The camp is on a parcel in Farmington owned by the city of Hartford and leased to the camp for $1 a year. It costs about $1 million a year to operate, according to its website.
Mercado, who is heading into her senior year at New Britain High School, started attending the camp when she was 5 and became a junior counselor at 13.
"I basically grew up in that camp," she says.
"I had the best fun. ... The counselors are really nice."
Mercado missed last summer because she couldn't get to the camp after moving to New Britain, but she'll be back at her counselor's post Thursday.
Mobley has fond memories of the camp, too, hers from the mid-1940s. She says she and other campers would pass time on the seemingly long ride by singing about landmarks along the way, screaming after each was passed. Among the landmarks they would sing about were a bridge and a large sign featuring a Hood milk bottle.
"We'd sing in the song `Get ready for the milk bottle.' I mean we were kids! ... Once we passed that big milk bottle we'd all say yay!"
Mobley also remembers singing about features of the statue of the Marquis de Lafayette's horse at Capitol Avenue and Washington Street, near the state Capitol.
She left Hartford for some time but returned nearly 30 years ago and still sees some of her fellow campers, she says.
"I think it's just wonderful that they have a camp like that, that does not cost people money," she said.
According to the camp's website, the camp started in 1894 when The Courant invited the public to contribute to a fund to take city kids on outings. The first trip was a steamboat ride that took nearly 1,500 children and parents across Long Island Sound. The camp is funded by various local donors and companies, including The Courant.
The camp provides free dental screenings and classes on topics including computers, healthy living and financial literacy.
The camp operates weekdays, about 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Gibbs said. It will run for six weeks.
Registration forms can be picked up at any Hartford public school or any Hartford Public Library branch and will be accepted until Aug. 2, one week before camp ends on Aug. 8. Parents can ask Camp Courant to mail registration forms or request additional information by calling 860-241-3795.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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