19th Camp Villages beats expectations

Sadie Rose Martin swims during a Camp Villages pool treasure hunt event at Truman Recreation Center.

Camp Villages recently wrapped up its 19th summer program, and officials with The Villages Recreation and Parks Department are calling it the most successful summer yet. Camp Villages 2019 summer programming ended Friday, and Lisa Parkyn, Camp Villages coordinator for the recreation department, said it was the largest-attended summer session, with more than 4,000 children attending at least one event over the course of the nine-week program. “With more than 7,000 tickets available and more than 95% of those tickets purchased, we by far exceeded our expectations,” she said. “I think it is safe to say we had 80% of activities completely sold out.”

Camp Villages provides intergenerational fun for Villagers and their families. In addition to summer activities, monthly events and holiday weeks were added to the Camp Villages lineup in recent years.

The 2019 program included about 70 activities in 180-plus sessions and was aided by more than 35 resident lifestyle groups.

This year also marked a year of first Camp Villages experiences for many involved in the program, including participants, Villagers and recreation staff.

First-time volunteer

Heather Brown got her kid fix this summer while volunteering at Arts & Crafts sessions throughout the year.

It was Brown’s first time volunteering with the intergenerational program.

The retired speech-language pathologist missed working with children, an inherent part of her job for 42 years.

“During this past year, I have joined groups and clubs and have enjoyed The Villages lifestyle,” said the Village of Calumet Grove resident. “But I realized I was missing the interaction with children and their families.”

In Indiana, where she’s from, she learned the value of stepping up to help the community by working as a director for a nonprofit and volunteering at many community events.

“I know the importance of volunteers,” Brown said. “The success of these events depends on volunteers.”

She said volunteering at Camp Villages was very rewarding. And she appreciated the opportunity to interact with other volunteers and recreation staff.

“Of course, the most rewarding is the involvement with the children and their families,” Brown said. “It’s is great to see electronics put aside for a short time and to see quality, hands-on interaction between the grandchildren and their grandparents.”

The best part for her, besides interacting with the children and offering an extra hand when they needed help, was witnessing their creativity flourish.

She plans to be back next year.

First-time recreation supervisor

This summer, Mike Kaiser-Sissons led his first Camp Villages activities.

The recreation supervisor at Captiva Recreation Center was in charge of two events per month. He helped Villagers and their grandchildren with dream catcher crafts as well as hula hoop, painting and polymer clay activities.

“It was nice getting to learn so many new things and get to work with so many residents and their families,” the Village Del Mar resident said.

He found the experience to be “amazing” because he was able to help facilitate projects that bring grandparents, parents and children together.

He especially loved getting to know residents better and said he now enjoys a small touch of fame out in public.

“I see people that ended up in multiple activities and sometimes bump into them at other recreation centers and have started being recognized and greeted with big smiles while out shopping,” he said.

First-time Grandparents and Grandchildren

First-time Camp Villages participant Gavin Ferrise told his grandmother that the day he went to the Camp Buckaroos Dinosaurs event was the best day he had in the week he and his sister visited from Nashville, Tennessee.

The 5-year-old said he learned about the reptiles during the educational activity.

“(Dinosaurs) are really big and a T-rex has short arms,” he said.

Gavin liked that they got to make “really cool art,” but making a dinosaur costume was his favorite part. After the costumes were complete, the new dinosaurs paraded around Colony Cottage Recreation Center.

“It was really fun to growl as we walked,” Gavin said.

Gavin’s grandmother, Village of St. James resident Leslie McAreavy, also had never experienced Camp Villages before this summer. She said she was impressed by how well the activities were organized and managed.

But mostly, she enjoyed having the opportunity to do something fun and creative with her grandkids.

“The staff at Camp Buckaroos Dinosaurs were so helpful, friendly and did everything to make the event fun for all,” McAreavy said.

Sue Fortier, of the Village of Collier, shared the Camp Villages experience for the first time with her granddaughters, 6-year-old Riley and 4-year-old Kelsey, from Massachusetts.

In the 10 days she was visiting The Villages this summer, Riley participated in a variety of Camp Villages activities, including cupcake decorating, a golf cart scavenger hunt, a magic show and a bubble-wrap activity.

Kelsey got to go to Camp Buckaroos Caterpillars & Butterflies and Camp Buckaroos Dinosaurs.

Sue and her husband, Don, thought the events were very well run and organized, and she could tell there was a lot of attention to detail.

She said the plan for next summer is to preview the catalog the moment it comes out to see what’s new.

Next year

New ideas are something the recreation department is continually soliciting.

“We continue to build and improve the program after the nine-week period comes to a close,” Parkyn said. “A combination of feedback from residents, children, volunteers and staff assists our department in bringing creative and innovative ideas to fruition. Our goal is to keep the program fresh, exciting and a trendsetter in new activities and programs that bring multiple generations together to create lasting memories while spending time together in The Villages.”

Parkyn recommends that residents remember to coordinate Camp Villages activities with their grandchildren and their schedules so there are no missed opportunities.

“Overall, this was another successful nine-week session of summer Camp Villages,” she said. “Our staff thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many new children and their grandparents, as well as reconnecting with families they have met over the past several years. Not only does Camp Villages provide fun during the summer for our residents and their visiting grandchildren, but our staff embraces the change of pace and synergy that comes along with including children.”

To submit feedback or for more information, email lifestyleevents@districtgov.org.

Staff writer Julie Butterfield can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or julie.butterfield@thevillagesmedia.com.