It was a typical Monday morning last summer at Sugar Sand Park Community Center in Boca Raton, Fla. I walked out of my office to see the bustling actors taking their places. The production assistant ordered quiet on the set as the director dropped his hand through the air and yelled “Action!”
As I quietly walked behind the film set and headed down the hallway, I passed through a chorus of Broadway hopefuls rehearsing Mama Mia as they danced and sang their way across the stage. Their synchronized movements lit up the stage as they followed the directions of their choreographer who directed them with perfection and a smile. Further down the hallway I made my way through the science lab where young scientists were gathering data and conducting experiments next door to a room full of future engineers who were too busy programming robots to even notice me as I passed. I took a moment to watch the future billionaires as they sharpened their business skills and networked on the putting green outside.
This is just a typical summer day at Sugar Sand Park where dreams become reality for the children in our specialty camps. Specialty camps go beyond the conventional to offer experiences that encourage students to explore their interests and exercise creativity while learning new skills from industry professionals.
Each year at Sugar Sand Park we have sought to build on our specialty camps and offer more diverse programming to meet the needs of the community. Our specialty camps offer local businesses a chance to show the community what they do and help develop young minds of tomorrow. They offer parents a safe place to leave children to be creative and grow throughout the summer. And in addition to increased revenues, these camps also offer additional volunteer opportunities for local high school and college students.
Summers in South Florida have historically been a slower season at the community center. Daytime classes for adults drop off with instructors and participants travelling north to visit relatives and spend their summers out of state. Groups who use the rooms throughout the year stop meeting for the same reason. By adding specialty camps we have been able to maximize facility usage. This year the City of Boca Raton was able to offer 4,000 camp spaces to local children. Specialty camps at Sugar Sand Park accounted for more than 900 of those available spaces because we were able to use our rooms to house independent contractors to run specialty camps.
Over the years we have worked with companies as far north as Canada and as far south as Fort Lauderdale. We seek out companies with experience teaching in a camp environment and who have instructors with credentials in their field of expertise. We have also worked with local instructors who teach throughout the year and hold camps for small groups of children. We engage in 70/30 splits with our camp directors just as we do with our normal weekly classes held in the community center throughout the year. The addition of specialty camps has helped revenues at Sugar Sand Park Community Center increase 67 percent over the past two years.
Our specialty camps also provide an opportunity for local teens to gain work experience and collect volunteer hours by assisting directors as camp counselors throughout the summer. Volunteers are matched with camps that best match their interests. Over the course of the summer these volunteers worked more than 4,000 hours to help make these camps a success.
When they aren’t engaged in learning activities, students enrolled in specialty camps can take advantage of the many amenities the park has to offer. Campers can be found riding on our carousel, splashing in the water feature located in the center of a three-story, science-themed playground, or interacting with exhibits in the hands-on science center, The Children’s Science Explorium. These features can fill the time during a long day at camp and ensure campers enjoy their breaks while continuing to learn. They have fun outside in our open green spaces where they can enjoy time-tested summer staples such as pie fights, pudding eating contests, water balloons, and more. And when they want to explore nature, they can take a walk down nature trails to observe the plants and wildlife that reside in the 132-acre park. Every aspect of our park is designed to provide children with the perfect combination of both educational and physical activity.
As Friday draws an end to a week of specialty camps, the red carpet is rolled out for filmmakers to show their work off to family and friends at their very own film festival. Dancers and singers take to the stage to perform in costume for their adoring fans and our billionaires celebrate their success with the grand opening of their ice cream shop. These grand finales allow the kids the opportunity to demonstrate how hard they have been working by putting their newly acquired skills and talents to use. Friends and family pack the park on Friday to see the filmmakers, scientists, engineers, stage actors, and entrepreneurs exploring their passions and doing what they love.
The ultimate mission of each specialty camp at Sugar Sand Park is to foster and nurture each child’s passion through fun, educational and interactive programs in a safe, friendly environment. They are designed to stimulate learning, encourage teamwork, and empower each child with a sense of individual achievement. Staff members take great pride in ensuring that these goals are met and the Friday finales of each camp are a testament to the attention to detail, focus, and effort that is put into selecting, enrolling, and executing each camp to accomplish the ultimate mission.
Photos Courtesy of Briann Harms, Sugar Sand Park Community Center.