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Fewer campers, but same fun

Economy impacting attendance numbers

June 19, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The sluggish economy in Lehigh Acres and surrounding Lee County has had an input on the number of youngsters who have been able to pay to attend the county's Recreation and Parks summer camp program in Lehigh.

Nancy Zukaitis, one of the directors of the camp, said she understands that the $75 cost per week for a child is too much for some to pay now, especially those who have no jobs or who have had to have to take part-time jobs to survive.

"Many of the families have more than one child and we can see that when you multiply the cost for those families that it is hardship for many kids to come to our summer camp," Zukaitia said.

Article Photos

Children take part in games at the Recreation Center in Lehigh Acres.

Figures of participants are down this year. There is a total of 175 youngsters who began camp on June 3. It runs to July 26 and the kids have an array of activities during the eight weeks.

Zukaitia, who has been working with the summer camp program for the Lee County Parks & Recreation for 24 years, said the highest number of children who have attended the summer camp was 220.

They report each morning and a full day's schedule is planned, some activities which taken them outside if the heat is not unbearable, and other activities that include field trips.

"Of course they love the public pool here in Lehigh. That is among their most favorite things to do and with it being so hot for the past few weeks, it is a great way to cool off," she said.

The kids also visit water parks, go fishing, play sports and especially inside sports in the large gymnasium at the Center on Homestead Rd. at Veterans Park. They take bus trips to other areas like Naples where events are planned.

"The kids are having a great summer experience and I enjoy seeing them having fun and something to do," she said.

In addition to Zukaitis, who is the toddler camp director, there is Christine Susterich, who handles the teen camps for older teenagers. She was away during the interview with her campers enjoying some activity.

Inside the gyms, the children enjoy basketball and tennis and activities in the computer room.

"We are not on the Internet there, so we don't have any problems of kids looking up unsafe sites," Zukaitis said.

"We really try to mix up the activities from trips to outside sports and inside activities and the weather always plays a part in it.

She said some of the parents pay weekly for the camp while others have paid the full amount.

"I will tell you one thing. When these kids are through for the day, they go home tired and they sleep well," she laughed.

There are paid staff members who are summer time counselors. Zukaitis said some of the workers are school bus drivers, off for the summer, and others who have the summer free from their work and others needed a part-time job.

Chris Marks, one of the counselors, said one of the more popular games with some of the younger kids is what they call Pillow Polo.

"They square off and try to throw the ball at the opposite side and if they hit them, they are out. It is something like dodge ball," he said.

And staff in the office at Veterans Park laugh and say it can get noisy when the summer campers go through the main office as they are full of energy and eager for the next activity.

Other than Bible Vacation Schools, the recreation center is probably the only place where youngsters can go for summer activities in Lehigh where there are structured planned programs.

Zukaitis said since many of the parents are home without jobs, the children are at least being cared for and that is important, she said.

Hopefully, next summer or the summer after that, the economy which is beginning to improve ever so slightly, will see more youngsters taking part in the county's summer camp programs, she said.



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