The YMCA of North Central Florida will conduct youth summer camps this year in Hawthorne and Micanopy, reviving summertime programming in rural areas.
Hawthorne Mayor Jacquelyn Randall said the YMCA last held camps in the city around 10 years ago, and she said the revived program will keep children safe and increase efficiency for families.
“So just giving them something safe to do—some activities to keep them stimulated and involved—I think is going to be a tremendous safety component for us out in the City of Hawthorne,” Randall said in an interview. “We don’t want them to just kind of be meandering around with nothing to do because that leads to bad behavior, which leads to an increase in crime.”
Summer gun violence among youth in Gainesville last year led to multiple special meetings and a town hall to address the problem.
Randall added that families will no longer need to drive to Gainesville or other areas for summer activities and programming. Hawthorne citizens and those in unincorporated areas around the city can drop children off at Shell Elementary School, home base for the summer camp.
The local camp will open up options for families with limited transportation, Randall said.
The YMCA programming will receive an assist from the Children’s Trust of Alachua County. The trust has provided funding for 60 campers in Hawthorne and 30 campers in Micanopy, with differing levels of support depending on the family.
In past years, Randall said Hawthorne hasn’t benefited as much from the trust, but she added that the trust has started to focus on rural areas and will finance as much programming in Hawthorne as any other city this summer.
The YMCA has also begun shifting its focus based on community assessments.
“We’ve been really looking at where services are needed and who needs the Y the most,” Angela Howard, CEO of the YMCA, said in a phone interview.
Howard has led the North Central Florida YMCA for three years, moving from Ohio in 2019. She said the lack of summer camp for Hawthorne was brought to the organization’s attention, and they met with the city to move forward.
The YMCA will now have three summer camp locations, with Gainesville’s camp forming the largest with 290-300 kids.
Howard said a key component of the camps is exposure to a range of activities, from typical summer camp fun like swimming to leadership training and 3D printing. The YMCA partners with lots of local organizations as well for field trips and activities.
She said one of these activities could spark interest in a kid that turns into a hobby or career. Howard and the YMCA also look to spread that opportunity across the area.
“We’re looking to go throughout Alachua County—it’s going to take us some time—to address the needs of each community, whatever those needs may be,” Howard said.
The partnership with the Children’s Trust allows the YMCA to accept more campers, and Howard encourages families not to accept the sticker value of the camp.
The summer camp website shows costs for K-6th graders without YMCA membership to be $135 a week for full-time camp and $105 for part-time. Costs for 7-10th grade for non-members sits at $125 per week.
But kids with SNAP benefits and other qualifications can receive a partial or total reduction in the cost.
Randall said Hawthorne has encouraged residents to use all the scholarships available for the city and hopes Micanopy will fill up its first summer camp as well.
“I think Hawthorne is answering the call and showing how important it is to have some type of camp service in Hawthorne, and who knows what it’ll lead to,” Randall said.
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