Bryce looked out at the dozen kids on the edges of the pool and on the various toys floating in it and smiled. Nearby, the waterfront director, Josh, shouted: “Who wants to have some fun?” And then the kids started splashing into the pool, collecting as many objects as they could as part of Olympics day at Wagon Road Camp.
When Bryce first came to Wagon Road, he was 5 years old and didn’t know how to swim. In fact, he’d never seen a pool before. But over the course of several summers, he grew in his skills and his confidence. Not only did he learn how to swim, but he also conquered his fear of heights on the rock climbing wall and overcame some social anxiety to form lifelong friendships.
A couple of years ago, Bryce returned to Wagon Road as a counselor. Now he’s a lifeguard and a certified swim instructor, providing the skills that summer camp gave him for the next generation of campers. He’ll enroll at Tufts University this fall.
“I remember what it was like to be younger and to be scared,” he said. “It wasn’t always easy. Because I have that background and experience, I know I can relate to the kids, and that we understand each other.”
Bryce’s experience is, fortunately, a familiar one at Wagon Road, our summer camp in Chappaqua. Every summer, Wagon Road welcomes about 300 campers for two sessions spanning six weeks. Most campers come for the whole summer, arriving after 9:30 and staying until 3:30, engaging in fun and enriching activities during their entire stay.
“When there’s low stress and no fear, you’re creating a place of safety,” said Wagon Road director Vince Canziani. “Summer camp is a safe, fun environment where we offer our kids countless ways to grow.”
Campers at Wagon Road stay engaged all day, from taking cooking and drama classes, to participating in sports like archery, rock climbing, basketball, and baseball. There’s even a high ropes course where campers learn that they’re capable of so much more than they believed.
In addition to the skills and sports, there are also mindfulness classes, an imagination playground, and group activities, like the Olympic games. For some campers, the ability to spend the summer swimming is the highlight. For others, it’s the friendships with children who don’t look like them. And for others, it’s a certain activity or instructor.
When Kaitleen was a camper, she looked forward to art class every day. At home, she didn’t have any art supplies, but at Wagon Road, she was able to find new ways to express herself.
“I remember all my counselors growing up,” she said. “I remember their names and the impact they had on me. They played such a huge role in my life. Now I get to give that back to kids, and it means so much to me.”
Kaitleen, who is hard of hearing, first came to camp with her sister, who is deaf. She has since worked at the respite camp, which is designed for children with developmental delays. Now she is a counselor and the art teacher, and she’s studying art education at SUNY New Paltz.
“This is a wonderful place because everyone here wants to care for you and wants to be your friend,” she said. “Plus, it’s a ton of fun.”