NEW BRITAIN – Kids in the North-Oak Street neighborhood are enjoying a summer filled with snow cones, water blasters, sports and games.
At least those who take advantage of the New Britain YMCA’s Camp Rec Express, a free, drop-in summer camp at Willow Street Park Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, except when it rains.
“There are way too many kids in this neighborhood not to have this park packed,” New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said Wednesday morning, when she dropped in to see how the program, which began July 1 and runs through Aug. 19, was going.
It was actually a $9,500 donation from the Mayor’s Trophy Charitable Fund to the Y back in June that made this camp possible and free to local youth of all ages.
It was a blistering hot day, all the more reason for kids to splash and spray water at each other and counselors.
They ran around a giant slip-and-slide set up on the park’s field, while others shot hoops on a basketball court next to the pavilion. Drinks and snacks were on hand as well as crafts and yard games.
The park is also home to an interactive splash pad, bocce and shuffleboard courts.
“The first day we had one kid and now we have 15 to 20 every day,” pointed out New Britain Y Executive Director Marci Moskal, one of four adults from the Y staffing the camp.
“I don’t know who’s having more fun, the kids or me,” Moskal added. “We’re all having the best summer ever.”
She’s hoping more kids will come by the park having heard about the fun in stores around the neighborhood or from their friends.
For Mayor Stewart, Camp Rec Express is also about changing the landscape in this part of town.
“We know that activating spaces with fun, good activities gets the bad out,” she explained. “This is a tough neighborhood - there’s no doubt about it - but we’re proving you can have safe and fun activities here.”
New Britain Police and Public Works staff check in on the park weekday mornings before camp begins, just to make sure the grounds are clean and ready for the day.
“Knowing the Y is here and we’re good role models, families feel better sending their kids out into the neighborhood,” Moskal said.
Wearing a Camp Rec Express t-shirt gifted her by staff was Ramona Lopez, who has been bringing her four grandchildren to Willow Street Park almost every day since the beginning of July.
The family lives near Smalley School, so they can walk down to the park anytime they please.
“We always get here early,” 15-year-old Hector Fred Sanchez said, standing a foot taller than his grandmother and helping to translate her Spanish into English.
“We came down to see what they were doing here and we enjoyed playing so we came back,” he added. “We’ve been doing so many different activities.”
If word spreads and the daily turnout increases the plan is to expand the program next summer, staff said.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.