By Jim Newell
Ah, the great outdoors. Hiking, swimming, crafts and team- and skill-building activities. Getting kids outdoors and socializing with their peers in a positive environment.
And that’s what the Orion Area Youth Assistance wants to do this summer: send more kids to summer camps so that they can have a positive experience in a social environment with other kids.
Last year, however, the OAYA had to turn away 33 kids due to a lack of funds.
On Saturday, the Lake Orion United Methodist Church held a Storybook Tour, with volunteers dressing in costumes and reading children’s stories to kids and their families, to raise funds for the OAYA’s Adopt-a-Camper program.
“I think it’s important to highlight how important a camp experience is. It is fun, but it’s an opportunity for kids to build social skills. It’s an opportunity for some of our kids who struggle in an academic setting, that are really kind of more rigid, to excel and feel good about themselves in a more active environment. There’s a ton of benefits to camp that are preventative services,” said OAYA Caseworker Amber Kish.
But the OAYA still needs more support in order to make sure that it doesn’t have to turn away kids this summer, said OAYA Board President Dawn Ames, who spearheaded the Storybook Tour fundraiser.
The Orion Area Youth Assistance sponsored 84 summer camp experiences for kids in 2018, kids who may not otherwise be able to attend due to financial constraints. Ames said just giving a child the chance to go to a summer camp can be an issue for families who have other expenses that need to be met.
“That’s low on a priority list, to send kids to a summer camp, because it costs money. So, this would be an opportunity for a child to do something that they have never been able to do, or don’t usually have the opportunity. I think that’s huge,” Ames said.
The 33 kids who were waitlisted last year will be offered scholarships to a camp this summer, but all other kids who apply will go into a lottery drawing.
So, once the Adopt-a-Camper funds are depleted, those youth who did not have their names drawn will be waitlisted. Unless the OAYA can raise enough funds to meet the demand.
Most of the camps are day camps, but there are a few slots for overnight camps, and camps can range from three days to a week. Generally, it costs around $150 to send a child to camp, a discounted rate through the OAYA’s partnerships with the camps, Kish said.
The OAYA receives $5,000 from Orion Township government for the Adopt-a-Camper program and raises the rest of the funds from donations and fundraisers, Kish said.
Last summer, the OAYA spent more than $11,200 on summer camps and skill building (tutoring, driver’s education, karate and lacrosse teams and gym/activity center) programs for families.
The OAYA partners with Lake Orion Community Schools, Orion Township, Village of Lake Orion and Oakland County 6th Circuit Court – Family Division. Its mission is to “strengthen youth and families and reduce the incidence of delinquency, neglect, & abuse through community involvement.”
Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh and LOPD reserve Sgt. Paul Leming support the program and have presented it to the Lake Orion Village Council, asking for their support.
“Eighty percent of our referrals are for prevention-type services. And that’s where the summer camps and skill building comes in,” Ames said.
Referrals come from the schools (61 percent), police (14 percent), parents (18 percent) and from other sources (7 percent).
Kish said the perception that the OAYA helps “bad kids” is a misconception. A child’s issues could be a struggle with behavior, emotional concerns or coping with changes in their environment.
“We’re getting more and more parent referrals directly, which I think is really good because parents are learning that we exist and their feeling comfortable enough to reach out for services, which is always positive,” Kish said. “I think it’s empowering for them to be able to do that themselves instead of being referred.
“And our focus is really on strengthening kids and families. The vast majority of the kids we see are good kids who just need a help growing and adjusting,” Kish said.
The OAYA is now accepting applications for the Adopt-a-Camper program.
Completed applications must be received by the OAYA office by April 15. Scholarship winners will be notified beginning April 22.
Anyone who would like to donate to the OAYA Adopt-a-Camper program can mail checks to: Orion Area Youth Assistance, CERC Building Room 8, 455 East Scripps Rd., Lake Orion, MI 48360.
For more information on the history of the OAYA and current programs, contact the OAYA at 248-693-6878 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on OAYA services and summer camp applications are available online at www.lakeorionyouthassistance.com.
By Jim Newell