Despite a tornado warning that sent kids, youth counselors and adults to the basement of the Branch County Fair Office the first day, the FRIENDS Day Camp was a success.
According to Suzanne Pish, Michigan State University Extension educator, FRIENDS Day Camp is a great collaboration among partners in the community and among the different staff members within the MSU Extension Branch County Office. This health, nutrition and “4-H awareness” camp is sponsored by the Health and Nutrition Institute and Children and Youth Institute in cooperation with the Branch County 4-H Foundation, Branch County Dairy Producers, Community Health Center of Branch County Physical Therapy, Branch County Michigan Works! WIA Youth Program and the Branch County Fair Board with help from a Branch County Community Foundation–Youth Advisory Council (YAC) grant. It took the cooperation of all of these organizations to host 58 children aged 7 to 11, who are living in limited-income situations, for this weeklong event at the Branch County Fairgrounds July 11–15.
This year’s theme, “Color Me Healthy,” focused on eating fruits and vegetables. The kids took part in a wide range of activities. Val Albright, MSUE Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–Education (SNAP-ED) program associate, held “In the Kitchen” sessions that included a lesson on fruits and vegetables. Sarah Johnson, MSUE SNAP-ED program associate, led a session each day using OrganWise Guys, an interactive science-based curriculum. Connie Lange, Extension 4-H educator, led the children in craft activities that make the kids aware of 4‑H and the kinds of opportunities 4-H offers. Suzanne presented a session on friendships that encourages social-emotional health. In fact, FRIENDS Day Camp is spelled with all caps to emphasize that the camp is about meeting and making new friends.
Several adult volunteers led other sessions throughout the week and 20 youth volunteers acted as camp counselors. One of the volunteer-led sessions focused on teaching the kids about agriculture, learning where the food they eat actually comes from. Campers got physically active through the Jump Into Foods and Fitness curriculum.
The kids enjoyed the final day at camp by taking a field trip to Sugar Bush Farms in Allen, which is a farmers market as well as a working farm. State Senator Bruce Caswell and Branch County administrator Bud Norman joined the group for a picnic lunch.