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Enjoying summer, and getting something out of it, too

I never got to go to summer camp when I was growing up, but seeing the kids at YMCA’s Camp Arrowhead this week and learning more about the upcoming Tidewater Summer Camp makes me a bit envious for the experiences they’ll have.

It’s not that I was ever bored during the summer. Growing up, I always had something to do — sports, games, riding a bike, going to the pool or beach, babysitting and mowing grass, among other things. And occasionally, when we could afford it, my family took a vacation.

Still, I saw the kids at Camp Arrowhead enjoying themselves, and hearing about just some of the activities they get to do — climbing an Alpine Tower, going to Davis Lakes Campground, playing a safer, yet popular version of dodgeball known as the Gaga Pit — made me wish for a moment that I could turn back time and go to camp, too.

And of course, the Tidewater Summer Camp that starts next week will feature art, a trip to the Great Dismal Swamp, a fossil hunt at Chippokes Plantation State Park and a canoe trip on the Nansemond River. Those seem like cool adventures I would have welcomed in my younger days.

These camps, and others, give young people the chance to have new experiences, make new friends and otherwise have fun.

But for those who aren’t able to get the camp experience, there are other ways to be active over the summer, such as helping the community through the week-long Serve the City event, which I got a taste of earlier this week while at Southside Baptist Church and Kilby Shores Elementary School. I got to witness people taking time out of their own lives to do something for others.

And what’s even better is that they found a way to get people of all ages involved, from young people putting together items for the city’s homeless, to young-at-heart people preparing meals, and everyone in between landscaping, painting and otherwise helping to make nine of Suffolk’s public schools a little nicer.

Still, you don’t need to have organized events to have fun and serve the community.

Certainly, I played many a video game growing up, but I also played board games, card games, drew pictures and made up games when those didn’t suffice. And I read — mostly magazines, comics and the newspaper.

Sometimes all I had was a ball and a wall, which improved my hand-eye coordination, though that certainly wasn’t my intent as a child. Other times, I went to a nearby playground when no one was around. When my friends and neighbors were around, we played tag, or some crude version of a sport or game in which, many times, we made up our own rules to make the games more interesting.

As I’m writing this on National Slurpee Day, it reminds me that I used to have a friendly bet with an older neighbor of mine who would take me to play tennis — the loser having to buy the winner a Slurpee. I don’t think I ever beat him, but even though I came prepared to pay, somehow I never had to.

That same person, and others, taught me to find ways to help my neighbors. Pet sitting for those who went on vacation, cutting their grass, watering their plants or taking care of their yards, or simply stopping by to say hello.

Though I would have loved to have the camp experience, or to have joined forces with like-minded people to do something for my community, you don’t need a formal event to be nice to a neighbor, offer help to someone — or even to have a little fun and learn something at the same time.