BY MARCY SHORTUSE – School might be out for the summer, but the learning hasn’t stopped. At the Boca Grande Community Center’s traditional summer camp, which started one week after school let out, kids are celebrating their favorite book characters, learning yoga, honing their archery skills, even squid dissection. Camp counselors “Unicorn” Khoreen Vetter, “Jungle” Joe Wier, “Coach” DJ Kiesling and “Bubbly” Brittany Trivelli have been working hard to make sure the kids who are enrolled have a great day every day they attend.
These camps offer a full day of excitement and is the same “traditional” day camp that has been held for many years. Arts and crafts, organized games, water activities, story time and more are highlighted each day, with an emphasis placed on safety and physical activity. The staff-to-camper ratio for the children is one to nine, or less.
This year’s camp is a bit shorter (thanks to an unusual past school year), only five weeks. The field trips aren’t quite the same as they are during a regular camp year, so the counselors have brought the fun to the kids, especially with a little help from the Boca Grande Woman’s Club and Royal Palm Players. Those organizations have donated to the camp to make sure the quality entertainment – and education – continues.
It certainly makes camp even more interesting when the kids get to share it with Monty the banded water snake, Charlotte the curly-haired tarantula, Emerald the Asian vine snake, Big Mad the Asian forest scorpion, Dreq the crested gecko, Xenomorph the tailless whip scorpion, Sssslytheren the corn snake, Wilbur the hognose snake, Crush the eastern musk turtle, Hippo the Pac-man frog, Larry the legless lizard and Floyd and Pink, the pink-bellied side neck turtles. They are almost all species in Vetter’s personal menagerie, and they have come to visit the kids at camp. Some of the critters, Vetter said, are hatches specifically for campers, but they will live with her when this camp session is over, until next year’s camp begins.
“The kids met their animal friends in our science room,” Vetter said. “They are not only learning about the animals themselves, but how to care for them as well. It’s very important they understand what being a responsible keeper is.”
The first week of camp featured a superhero theme, and the kids actually got to hang out with Spiderman and Wonder Woman. They also played laser tag and learned a new art form – how to make animals, swords and other items with Karen’s Balloon Creations. Sand art was featured, and water day (which is every Friday) was also a favorite.
This past week, the second week of camp, the kids performed karaoke with Miss Toni, art with Miss Chris, storytelling with Sarah, had yoga and meditation with Kris Vetter, and did some tie dye work. They also had Jeff the Magician schedule, as well as an IMAG history and science assembly.
Vetter said that soon the kids will be learning about tadpoles and frogs, as well as caterpillars and butterflies, by hatching their own.
A lover of all animals, one of Vetter’s primary goals in working with children is to instill a love of all wildlife, as well as nature in general. She has obtained extensive experience working directly with conservation efforts and education, and in 2005, she began her career in conservation at Wildlife Encounters, where she would spread the word on conservation efforts to a multitude of generations.
“I decided to take the opportunity to work with Wildlife Encounters because I was interested in animal behavioral studies,” she said. “I worked with everything from alligators to kangaroos to snakes.”
For years to come, Vetter would learn to gain the trust of animals from all walks of life. As an animal behaviorist, she trained exotic animals that she brought to school campuses for educational purposes. These animal ambassadors would tie together lessons on conservation for children, and how our efforts can have a positive impact on individual animals.
“To work with any animal, you first need to gain their trust,” said Vetter. “Not only are the species different, but each individual animal has its own personality.”
The same holds true with children, as we all know, and the way the kids at the Boca Grande Summer Camp respond to Vetter just goes to show she is not only loved by the animals, but the children as well.