FARMINGTON -— Nearly 500 campers, ages 5 to 12, showed up for the first day of Hartford's Camp Courant Thursday morning, ready and excited to play outside, spend time on arts and crafts—and even take a dip in the pool to cool off.
Camp Courant is the largest free day camp in the country, providing opportunities for children from Hartford to participate in recreational, education and cultural programs. Camp Courant has been around since 1894, but has had permanent residence in Farmington since 1963.
A major goal of Camp Courant is to "keep [the camper's] minds open and expanding," said Executive Director, Beth Gibbs.
The camp features four main daily activities between the 9:00 a.m.-2:15 p.m.: playground time, arts and crafts, time to cool off in the pool, and team sports. The site has two full basketball courts, a baseball field, in-ground pool, pavilions and an indoor area with a 20 computers. Younger campers utilize an Early Learning Center, with volunteers helping develop their reading and writing skills.
Campers are picked up at 10 middle and high schools in the city, six on the North end and four on the South end.
Only 13 acres are visible and being used by Camp Courant, while the remainder of the 32-acre-site features a nature trail winding throughout. Before this summer's six-week-session, the path had been improved.
There are close to 36 camp counselors, a dozen counselors in training and various staff and security members involved. Overall, approximately 65 workers are a part of Camp Courant.
"We have a good [program] structure [here] to provide a safe haven for kids," said Marta Shepard, the program coordinator for counselors in training. Shepard has been a part of Camp Courant for 22 years, originally brought in for her work with the Hartford Association for Retarded Citizens. About 10 – 15 special needs campers will be a part of Camp Courant this year.
Training to become a counselor is a year-long process. Counselors in training start at age 12, when many have just finished their last summer as a camper and still want to be involved. When they turn 15, the counselors in training are encouraged to apply and interview as full-time counselors the following summer.
"The kids come to go swimming, but they get so much more," said Camp Director Stan Glowiak, "It's not just recreation; it's a comprehensive youth development program."
This summer, Camp Courant will feature visits from workers from the Hartford Hospital Radiology Dept., UConn's Husky healthcare program for children and the American Liver Foundation. Dental screenings will also be available to campers.
Gibbs has been the executive director for 13 years and has big plans for Camp Courant's future: eventually creating a satellite site just for the older campers. Gibbs wants to branch out in order to provide more specific learning and team building opportunities exclusively for 11-12-year-olds. If all goes well, and a satellite location is possible, the camp would then accept 12-15 year-olds.
The satellite camp would focus on developing leadership skills, increasing self-awareness discussion and team building exercises, in addition to career and education programs as well as financial literacy programs.
"There's just not enough stuff out there for that age group," said Gibbs.
Camp Courant has been around since 1894, when an editorial in The Hartford Daily Courant invited contributions from the public to invest in outings for city children. Since that time, Camp Courant has given nearly 1,100 city children each summer a cost-free chance to have fun during the summer months, with programs set up to develop self-esteem and build positive relationships.
Donations are provided from private family groups, like the Hartford Foundation for Public giving, corporate companies, such as Hartford Financial Services, endowments and fundraising events.
It is projected that nearly $25,000 was raised at the BlumShapiro 5K for Camp Courant on June 9. In September, Camp Courant will host a "Buddy Bash" which will provide an evening of dinner, dancing as well as silent and live auctions. The next fundraising event will be a barbecue on June 28.
Those interested in learning more about Camp Courant are encouraged to visit their website, http://www.campcourant.org/.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at