Rec-PAC (Pretty Awesome Children), a six-week summer camp program operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority Youth Services Division, has provided elementary age children with fun, memorable, and affordable summer camp experiences for over 50 years. Camps take place at 50 elementary school sites throughout the county, and each week has a different theme. Fees are based on a sliding scale, and partial scholarships are available for families receiving public assistance.
Participants enjoy a wide variety of activities such as: fitness, indoor and outdoor games, team sports, nature, crafts, storytelling, sports festivals, talent shows, and supervised play sessions with an emphasis on bully prevention and character education.
The summer culminates with a special Rec-PAC gives back week. Staff and campers come together to complete projects that benefit the community. Over the last three years, Rec-PAC has collected over 4,000 pounds of canned goods for a local food bank. Campers have also written thousands of letters to soldiers oversees, cleaned up school and park areas, and collected clothing for local homeless shelters.
For the past five years, the program has been led by Mike Bonneville, who was a Rec-PAC camper at the Lake Ridge Elementary School site for three years before working his way up the ranks to his current role as program manager. He sat down to discuss his experience, what’s planned for 2012, and the future of the program.
What is your best memory from your experience as a Rec-PAC camper? My best memory from Rec-PAC was a prize I earned. The site director at my site had a reward system for those who had a positive attitude, showed team work and also respected others. Each day you were able to earn a sticker, and at the end of the week if you had five stickers you could pick a prize from the prize box. There was an action figure I had my eye on from day one. I worked very hard all week to earn this action figure. By the end of the week I had all five stickers. When it was my time to pick a prize, I noticed that it had already been taken.
I decided not to pick anything and was upset that I had worked so hard for nothing. One of the staff noticed that I was down and came and talked to me. I told him about the prize and how hard I worked to earn it. Later that day my mom came to pick me up. As I was leaving the staff member I spoke with came running out the door calling my name. I turned around and was greeted by the staff member who had a big smile. He leaned down and handed me the action figure. He told me that I worked hard and that I should be rewarded. It was the action figure I really wanted. I was so excited and happy. I later found out that the staff member had run out during lunch to buy me the action figure with his own money. This is a memory I have never forgotten and always think about. I think about how this one person changed my life. When I talk to the Rec-PAC staff, I talk to them about smiles and laughs, and that the feeling they give the campers can last them more than just that day, that they can last a life time.
What can you say about the kids who participate in Rec-PAC? They are amazing! Every year I learn something from the kids in the program. They are so creative and have wonderful imaginations. There was a third-grader who had been in the program a couple of years and I had the chance to get to know him. This past summer while visiting his camp site location he came up to me and starting asking me about my job and what I do. After talking with him he turned to me and said, “Mr. B., when I grow up I want to run Rec-PAC just like you.” I was a great feeling and moment.
What can you say about the youth leaders in the program? The CIT’s (Counselors in Training) in the program are terrific. It is amazing to watch many of them come out of their shell. At CIT training they are all nervous and scared. Over the course of the summer they come out of their shell and begin working closely with the staff and campers. They begin to use their creativity to think of new games and activities for the campers to do. There is nothing like seeing a young person really come into their own.
Where will the international event be held? Every site will hold an international event during the week of Globe Explorer. This is a great week for campers to talk about where they are from. It also allows the campers to see just how different we all are. We educate the campers on different cultures through games and arts and crafts. We end the week with an amazing international lunch. I think the parents have almost as much fun as he kids at this event. Parents and campers enjoy making dishes to share with the site and also talk about them. It is a fun event for everyone.
Where is the Search for the Lost Pirate Island event held? I have to admit that Pirate Adventure week is my favorite week. I love seeing the kids and staff dress up and transform their site into a lost paradise with artwork and decorations. During the week we hide items and provide the kids treasure maps to find the items. We use this time to teach the kids about working on a team. The kids love the end of the week when we have the Lost Treasure Island party. We create games for the campers to play to earn prizes. We dance, play, and just have a great time.
Can you explain Character Counts? Character Counts! is a nationally recognized education program to help develop good moral character in today’s youth. Our goal is to promote good character through recreation and develop a positive environment for youth. The “Six Pillars of Character” are introduced within our theme-based programs on a weekly basis. The benefits have been demonstrated in schools by creating a positive climate, improving behavior, and promoting good citizenship.
Can you explain the letters to soldiers program? We work with different branches of the armed forces to provide them with letters and drawings the campers made to send overseas. Our goal is for them to have a little piece of home and for them to know that they are not forgotten.
Does Buddy the Wolf have any new messages this year? Buddy has been an amazing addition to the Rec-PAC family. His message is, “Take a stand and lend a hand.” Buddy works hard to teach kids about bullying and what they can do if they feel they are being bullied or know someone who is. He teaches kids how to help others who are being bullied and to not just be a bystander. Just because we are all different doesn’t mean we should be treated differently.
What does the future hold for Rec-PAC? The Rec-PAC program has been in the county for a very long time. I love this program with all my heart. Many of my staff say I bleed Rec-PAC. This program has been very good to me through the years. I believe that Rec-PAC can be here for many more years if we continue to change the program with the times. Things campers liked 10 years ago are not what kids today want to do. The challenge is to listen to the campers and hear what they have to say and want to do, and to adapt to the changes around us and make Rec-PAC the best summer experience.
Find more information about Rec-PAC at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/recpac.
Summer camp information is available at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/rec/rec_camps.htm.
Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer.