It’s summer-camp season, and a special opportunity is available for some disadvantaged kids who might not otherwise have much of a chance at summer fun. Mary Lou Garcia is executive director of Wildwood Hills Ranch, a 400-acre facility near St. Charles, about 25 minutes south of Des Moines. There’s a 9-acre lake with a water slide as well as canoes, kayaks and paddleboats, there’s horseback riding, mountain bikes, a sports field, basketball and volleyball court, art building and a confidence-building course. In the off-season, the facility’s even rented out for executive business retreats, but in summer Garcia says local counselors refer at-risk kids to come to camp free. They work with other organizations from the Department of Human Services to schools to Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs. Counselors and directors focus with the kids on team-building, character and leadership, so while they’re having fun, positive principles are woven in to the experience. Those skills can help the kids make their lives different from what they’ve been up to now, she explains. Garcia says kids are divided by age and gender as soon as they arrive for a camp session. The teams of 8 to ten kids have two or three counselors, and together they “rotate” through all the activities in the camp, working, playing, even eating and sleeping as a group. The faith-based, nondenominational camp weaves in lessons on character with the summer fun, and Garcia says there’s no shortage of high school and college-age counselors though the work’s demanding and low-paying. The Iowa Hospitality Association supports the camp, which is free for the at-risk kids.For three weeks there’s also a paid camp anyone can send a child to, and that helps raise money for the rest of the sessions — she says at-risk children come at no expense so they do conferences, retreats and the paid camp to fund scholarships. For more information surf to www.wildwoodhills.com
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