The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY PAGE LEGGETT Cor­re­spon­dent

Swim­ming is a big part of the ex­pe­ri­ence at the John­ston YMCA day camp in the NoDa neigh­bor­hood.

If kids aren’t swim­mers when they come to the John­ston YMCA’s day camp, that will change dur­ing the time they are here. “We swim for an hour ev­ery day,” said Lind­say Lowry, fi­nan­cial devel­op­ment di­rec­tor at the Y that’s in the heart of NoDa.

Some campers have never seen a pool – or any body of wa­ter – un­til they come to camp. It can be in­tim­i­dat­ing.

Swim in­struc­tors give ev­ery camper an as­sess­ment at the start of camp, and each camper gets a col­ored wrist band in­di­cat­ing where he or she is al­lowed to go in the pool.

While swim­ming is a big part of the ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s far from the only thing campers do. There are lots of na­ture-themed ac­tiv­i­ties, arts and crafts, dance, scav­enger hunts, cook­ing classes and free time on the play­ground.

“We get back to ba­sics here,” Lowry said.

Dur­ing swim­ming, wa­ter safety is paramount. Meck­len­burg County has the high­est rate of drown­ing deaths of any county in North Carolina, Lowry said, even though it is not


a coastal county.

“It’s so im­por­tant that kids are con­fi­dent in their abil­ity to swim and know how to save them­selves if they should get in trou­ble,” she said.

Coun­selors want campers to have fun in the wa­ter, while main­tain­ing a healthy re­spect for it.

No one’s forced to get in the pool. “We want ev­ery­one to have a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” Lowry said. “If a child is too afraid to get in the wa­ter, a staff mem­ber will sit on the pool deck with them. We want kids who are re­luc­tant to swim to see how much fun ev­ery­one’s hav­ing in the pool.”

The strat­egy al­ways works, she said.

Since 2009, the Ob­server Sum­mer Camp Fund has raised over $1.5 mil­lion and sent more than 3,000 chil­dren from the area to day and sleep­away camps. This sum­mer, more than 500 kids will at­tend 33 camps. Three campers are headed to the John­ston Y camp on an Ob­server schol­ar­ship.

Kids of all ages ( preschool through teen) can at­tend camp, and it’s open to more than just Y mem­bers. Any­one can come – for one week or the en­tire sum­mer.

The John­ston Y camp of­fers con­ve­nience for work­ing par­ents who need some­thing en­rich­ing for their kids to do when school’s out. Its ur­ban set­ting is handy for par­ents, but it doesn’t prove a draw­back for kids.

“We’re a small branch, and there’s not a lot of na­ture around us,” Lowry said. “But our staff does a phe­nom­e­nal job of work­ing with what we have. Fos­ter­ing a love of na­ture is part of what we do here.”

One way they’ll do that this year is by tak­ing teen campers on a field trip to a re­cy­cling fa­cil­ity. Preschool kids will get the same “Love the Earth” mes­sage back at camp as they learn about en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

But the most im­por­tant thing kids learn to do at this city camp is how to swim. It’s a skill that will last them a life­time.

John­ston YMCA

The John­ston YMCA day camp in the NoDa neigh­bor­hood of Char­lotte of­fers lots of na­ture-themed ac­tiv­i­ties, arts and crafts, dance and scav­enger hunts, in ad­di­tion to swim­ming.

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