A day camp like no other

Published 8:52 pm Saturday, August 6, 2011

YMCA: The YMCA Regional Day Camp and Family Center is moving in at the previous home to the Hampton Roads Youth Center on Kenyon Road. The YMCA of South Hampton Roads has put $4.4 million into the property and project.

YMCA camp promises special summers

The YMCA Regional Day Camp and Family Center has been busy with construction workers, earth-moving machines and buildings going up simultaneously this summer.

By this time next year, the YMCA of South Hampton Roads and District Vice President Rick Matthews expect 400-600 kids a day to make the camp even busier.

The 55-acre property and $4.4 million worth of work will lead to a summer day camp like no other in the region, Matthews said.

Tower: An alpine climbing tower is already standing at the YMCA Regional Day Camp and Family Center being built on Kenyon Road. The YMCA of South Hampton Roads bought the 55-acre property in June 2010. The primary mission for the construction and renovations is a summer day camp for 400 or more kids.

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The camp at the site of the former Hampton Roads Youth Center on Kenyon Road comes closer to reality each day. When completed, it will provide a mix of the traditional and the modern and of fun and education.

An alpine tower and zip line are already up behind the main building. Continue back toward the woods, and there’s an outdoor amphitheater and archery and rifle ranges.

There will be softball fields, soccer fields, 14 picnic shelters, basketball courts and a large community garden. Matthews said more than 20 acres remains available for expansion.

The centerpiece of the camp, and a probable favorite of its young attendees, will be an indoor-outdoor, eight-lane, Olympic-size pool.

A permanent roof will cover the pool and deck. When the weather calls for it, wall panels similar to garage doors will come down and enclose the facility.

“It will be one-of-a-kind. There’s nothing like this in South Hampton Roads, nothing like it in Virginia that I know of,” Matthews said.

The YMCA purchased the property in June 2010. Renovations and construction started in October. Footing the $4.4 million bill has progressed nearly as quickly.

Dominion Power, Birdsong Peanuts, Frank Batten and his family, Anne Randolph Harrell and Everett and Sandra Birdsong have been the biggest donors, Matthews said.

“The YMCA Board of Directors has done a phenomenal job raising the finances. It’s incredible to have a project such as this and have it almost completely paid off,” he added.

The Obici Health Care Foundation donated money for the alpine tower. It’s already gotten good use, as the YMCA has hosted elementary school field trips and some groups during the summer to try out what’s already up.

“The Lord dropped this in our lap,” Matthews said.

The summer day camp is likely to be from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day for as many weeks of summer break as kids would like to attend.

“Part of this is about how to make the parents’ time most useful,” Matthews said. “Here, we will keep the kids busy all day. Make them nice and tired by the time they go home. Parents can pick them up, feed them dinner, then hopefully put them straight to bed.”

While perhaps not as exciting as soccer, zip lines and the pool, the main building will be the hub for arts, crafts, science, music, technology and a lot more subjects to be determined.

“It’s endless on just what we can do as far as activities here,” Matthews said. “The camp will really try to keep kids involved all the time, on a whole spectrum of activities.”

Plans for before-school and after-school programs are in the works. The Regional Day Camp will be for grown-ups, too. It has already welcomed companies and organizations for meetings and banquets.

In the facility’s previous life as the Hampton Roads Youth Center, a group home for troubled teenagers, the interior was made up mostly of small rooms.

The building has been renovated into large, open spaces, including a commercial-size kitchen, big classrooms, multiple banquet or meeting areas with large windows overlooking most of the 55 acres, a chapel, a library and a deck outside around most of the back of the building.

“We’re already working with local chefs who want to volunteer their time and teach kids how to cook, what to eat, to help us in teaching about obesity and nutrition,” Matthews said.

Helping kids in the Suffolk and regional community is the mission. Economic growth for the area is a healthy side effect.

“In a down economy, we’re growing. We’re hiring staff,” Matthews said. “Next year, we’ll have 175-200 staff hired out here. Lifeguards, camp counselors, specialty instructors for the archery and rifle ranges, for example.”