One can run out of superlatives trying to write about Rochester’s summer program. I said in the past that it was “wonderful” and “superb.” This year, the program was considered a “huge success” from the very beginning (cover story, Blue Stone Press, July 18, 2014).
The total number of children registered reached a record number of 81, double what the Youth Department was striving to get a few years back. It shows a real need in the community and the increasing appreciation of the program. Each of the 7-week program had a different theme, including trips and activities. More than 40 kids participated weekly, with many on the stand-by list.
These record-high numbers challenged those in charge of the program, and they raised to the occasion. With skills making her the ideal director of such program, MaryAnne Gates, together with her formidable assistant Elaine Samuels, proved again to be impeccable. In Youth Department Director Carol Dennin’s words, MaryAnne Gates is simply the best!
The program was very well structured but flexible enough to accommodate the weather; it was extremely diverse in terms of activities, and it improved kids’ quality of life.
From the weekly “Lunches with Tana (Miller)” to the bus trips, it was all fun mixed with education. There were major trips (Great Escape/Lake George, Howe Caverns, UC Fair, Albany Museum), outings to parks and beaches (Lake Taghkanic, Belleayre, Bowdoin Park, Ulster Landing), the weekly visits to the Ellenville Library and the Kerhonkson pool, the skate rinks and the pizza parlors. Parents would be hard-pressed to offer such a rich vacation.
Out of the 35 camp days, I’ve participated as volunteer counselor to almost half of them, proudly wearing our program’s beautiful orange T-shirt. What impressed me the most this year was the many ways we help the kids by having such a program.
I’ve seen children’s transformation from shy to confident; I admired their loyal friendships – how two adorable little girls, Chloe and Candace, stopped to hug each other when crossing paths at the UC Fair, then continued to go their ways, was priceless… I saw “dramas” unfold when a “best friend” no longer wanted to play in the water; I saw some tears and lots of joy; I saw older kids learning to become counselors in training, then counselors…
I’ve been “interviewed” by girls intrigued by my accent, we’ve bonded, I got a bit involved in their worlds or personal problems, I’ve showed them how to best spend their money in a gift shop… From Howe Caverns to the Chocolate Factory I witnessed many authentic moments, and I’ve captured them in photos then posted on the Town of Rochester Youth & Community Center Facebook page. What is hard to capture in words or pictures is being overwhelmed by children’s love – I’ve probably never been hugged so much in my entire life!
If we offer love, smiles, understanding and care, we get back love, smiles and hugs. Sue Matson (former Chair and long time member of the Youth Commission) graciously said: “It is really a plus to have you participate so much Manuela, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is having another caring, fun, interesting adult in the lives of the children on a consistent basis. That is so important for any child. I appreciate all the time and effort you have given. Yes, it is a gift on your part even tho’ you enjoy it too.”
These kids challenged my energy levels and offered me their love: Adia, Adriana, Angela, Annie, Brendan, Candace, Carson, Celeste, Chloe, Chloe C., Elsa, Emily C., Grace, Naomi, Sarah Rosa, Savannah.
Congratulations and a big thank you to all – organizers, directors, counselors and helpers, participating kids and parents – for offering such an affordable, diverse, fantastic summer program. It’s a jewel of a program and offered me a most enriching experience.
Youth Commission member/secretary
Blue Stone Press – September 5, 2014 (p. 14)