SAN MIGUEL — If the smiles were any indication, the Sheriff’s North County Youth Summer Camp was a rousing success.
For five days, July 9-13, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office hosted nearly 75 kids from Paso Robles, Templeton, Shandon, Creston and San Miguel at Lillian Larsen Elementary.
This is the Sheriff’s third youth summer camp of the year in the county. The two other camps were held in Arroyo Grande — the South County Camp — and the other was in Cayucos — the Coast Camp. This is the eighth year for the camps.
Seeing the smiling campers make new friends is considered a win for the deputies, who put the camps on with a lot of help from Friday Night Live.
“Just a positive experience, making new friends,” said Deputy Susy Corriea. “We did a survey and the biggest thing they liked was the food and making new friends.”
Campers like 12-year-old Jeramy Walton, of Shandon, enjoy coming.
“It’s really fun,” he said. “I like when we get to get active, go inside of the gym and play as a team.”
This was Walton’s second year at the camp.
“It’s good to meet new people,” he said. “I have met some new people that they haven’t came here before so I am just trying to make them have fun this year.”
Organizers also know they are making a difference in the middle-school aged children’s lives.
“I think we have such a great staff of people that do these great classes touching on things that may not touch every kid,” Corriea said, “but I guarantee you every single kid at some point in time in the future is going to go ‘Oh, I remember that, I remember that’.”
The Youth Summer Camp is an offshoot of the Gang Resistance Education And Training (GREAT) program the SLO County Sheriff’s Office teaches during the school year.
The GREAT program has three components — the middle school and the elementary during the school year, a family component, and then a summer component.
“We took that summer component and that is where it started,” Corriea said, “but we have evolved it to being called the Sheriff’s Youth Summer Camp, instead of the GREAT Camp, but it is part of the GREAT program, but we've more tailored it to us.”
The week begins with the students, who will be entering the sixth, seventh or eighth grade in the fall, being divided into four groups — orange, purple, green and yellow. The campers tie-dye a T-shirt then rotate through activities focused on “respect,” Corriea said of Monday.
Monday through Thursday has a different theme — Respect, Relationships, Accountability and Wellness — and Friday is Graduation Day. Each day, the campers eat snacks and lunch. The kids get two T-shirts, a water bottle, and a graduation picture and certificate.
“Friday is the big day, public service day, where we have all of the different agencies come out and bring their vehicles,” Corriea said, “a helicopter lands, and it’s the graduation. They graduate the camp and they all get certificates. We do a big group shot of everybody, all of our staff and the kids.”
On Wednesday, Accountability Day, the WOW team from Cal Poly jump started the day with physical activities. The groups spent the rest of the day doing a puzzle challenge; in a decision-making class; a social media and cyber safety class; and in the gym riding a tricycle.
Each year, even though the Sheriff’s Office plans out the activities for the week, something always happens, forcing the organizers to improvise.
The tricycle ride was one of those adjustments. Campers paired off with one person riding the tricycle while wearing a blindfold and the other camper giving them directions so they could make their way through the course without knocking over any of the bright, orange-colored cones.
Themes and activities change each year to keep it fresh for returning campers, deputies and Friday Night Live personnel.
Campers age out once they enter high school, but can return to help the deputies as guides and mentors.
“We have them come back year after year until they age out,” Corriea said. “I have parents, even years later, tell me their kids want to come back as leaders. They want to be a part of it somehow because they had so much fun.”
The camp is free for the children thanks to the efforts of Sheriff Ian Parkinson.
“It’s been very successful,” Corriea said. “This is his baby. He’s somehow been able to find funding every year, he makes it happen.”
For more information about the GREAT program, visit www.slosheriff.org/great.php.