As a line of buses rolled into the tight, wooded entrance of Hartford's Camp Courant, executive director Beth Gibbs was surprisingly calm taking it all in.
"Here they come," she said, looking at the groups of about 20 children running in from all directions. Some were clinging to their backpacks, others to friends or siblings. And the buses kept arriving, dropping off 960 kids for the first day. Camp Courant, a free summer camp for Hartford youth aged 5 to 12, started its six-week program Monday morning at its camp grounds on Batterson Park Road in Farmington. Serving about 900 children each day, Camp Courant is one of the largest and one of the oldest free public day camps in the country.
"There aren't a lot of really consistent places where parents can place their children and know they're going to have free day care. ... and know that they're going to have a place where their kids can be safe," Gibbs said.
Camp Courant began in 1894 after an editorial appeared in the Hartford Daily Courant that encouraged donations to enable city children to go on free outings. Today the camp is a private nonprofit organization that raises close to $1 million each year in grants and gifts to operate.
Campers spend their days honing their writing skills in the computer lab, learning basic financial literacy, playing on the playgrounds, doing arts and crafts, swimming and playing sports. Campers are given transportation, breakfast and lunch, with a nurse on staff.
The Early Learning Center screens younger children and teaches everything from the alphabet to colors, said Rita Wood, the center's director.
Camp Director Stan Glowiak says Camp Courant provides its campers "total youth development."
"You're working with kids who are very impressionable and [giving] them an enriching experience during the summer that they wouldn't have a chance to do otherwise in the city," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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