Enthusiastic shrieks emanated from eager campgoers, some chasing their peers with water balloons while others slid down a giant inflatable water slide.
Still others sat on their damp towels, sipping melting Sno-Kones in the hot sun behind Chattahoochee Elementary School.
Though the children looked no different from other young campers in Forsyth County, for many, this was a first-time opportunity — a six-week camp offered by The Place of Forsyth County and Forsyth County Schools to low-income, rising first through sixth graders.
The camp, in its pilot year, will conclude July 19, having run since June 5 at Midway and Chattahoochee elementary schools, said Joni Smith, executive director of The Place.
“This is for kids of low-income, working parents who would otherwise be home alone during the summer,” she said. “We charge them $20 per week, and that includes all the food and drinks. We were a recipient of a huge donation by [Browns Bridge Church] to make this happen.
“A lot of these kids have never had a chance to go to camp before because it’s expensive, so we just thought it would be a good opportunity.”
The camp, which has about 280 students enrolled at the two locations — about 150 at Midway and 130 at Chattahoochee — combines fun, summer activities with educational programs aimed at keeping students engaged and up-to-speed when they return to school in early August.
“[FCS] tests the kids at the end of the school year, and we found out the majority of the kids here are the ones that fall way behind, as they’re not getting the English, they’re not getting the math, and nobody’s helping them over the summer,” Smith said. “When they get back to school, it’s like they’re starting over, but [FCS] is going to test them at the beginning of the school year to see if they’ve maintained their scores [from the end of the year].
“We’ve hired teachers to run the camp, and then all the staff were either after-school employees or they’re in college.”
Smith said in addition to the teachers and staff running the camp, community members have made various presentations to the children, engaging them in yoga, jiu jitsu — a form of martial arts — and other activities.
A group of fourth and fifth grade boys at Midway are also receiving manners classes from a community volunteer the boys are more able to relate to than perhaps their counselors, Smith added.
“It’s a work in progress,” she said, “but I think the kids are having a great time.”
Seven-year-old Chance Forster, a camper at Chattahoochee, said she most enjoys all the “fun things” campers can do.
“We get to have pizza at lunch and cupcakes and have fun with water,” she said.
Smith said The Place and FCS hope to hold the camp in future years, though they may expand it to include all socioeconomic classes.
“That way, if there’s someone who has means but they want their child to come, there will just be a tiered payment [system,],” she said. “It would be good to have a good socioeconomic mix, because that’s the world.
“But after [the first year], you try and you learn stuff and so we’ll figure out how to make it work better [in the future].”