Day Camp is a three-day outdoor adventure camp (not overnight), held in the April school holidays and open to all Mercury Bay children between the ages of 6 and 13.
The Coromandel is rather out of the mainstream, so I was stunned to hear that this year 322 children signed up for this experience. I put through a call to Whitianga and got Alistair Rogers on the line, who with his wife Pat are the camp administrator and treasurer of the Mercury Day Camp committee have been in on the act from the first camp held in 2001. They are part of a team of 8 dedicated people who make Day Camp happen.
Alistair tells me that the idea was initiated by the Mercury Bay Co-operating Parish in Whitianga, a church of just 45 members and with an average age of around 60, with the aim of providing a high quality, safe, outdoor holiday programme for primary age children.
“Just eight people attended the first public meeting some eight years ago. Now we also have the wonderful support and cooperation of the Baptists, St Peters Anglican, Crossroads and the local Catholic Church,” relates Alistair, “and the Day Camp just grows in popularity each year. We’re thinking we’re probably going to have to start capping numbers, because around 325 kids is about the limit the facilities can cope with.”
I am surprised to learn that Day Camp targets not holidaymakers, but the regulars. “Some who are visiting Grandma for the holidays will come along, but it’s our advertising through schools and word of mouth that really brings them in. I did interview on radio last year, and we got a good response from that,” laughs Alistair.
The wider community offers great support. Farm land is used free of charge and many local businesses offer cheap rates and free up personnel to help. Day Camp also relies heavily on 50 adult volunteers from all sections of the community. The ages of the participants range from 6 to several who are 75 and older. Despite all the help, this year’s camp still cost around $20,000 to run.
So what does Day Camp look like?
It starts with a bus ride. Four buses run from Whitianga, and one from Pauanui via Hikuai and Tairua. Camp kicks off at 9:30 with Tent Time, which includes action songs, stories, memory verses. The content is unashamedly Christian. The tent in question is a huge marquee which is jointly owned by the Paeroa Co-operating Parish. “We do a camp in April, they do one in September – it works out great for both of us,” explains Alistair.
What happens next? “In the past we had them building bush huts, bridges and towers, but we are running out of bush,” he chuckles. “Now we give them a choice of electives – they get to do three activities per day, nine over the three days. Activities include archery, jousting, flying fox, beading, BMX riding, bushcraft, clay modeling, craft activities, flax-weaving, rock wall climbing, frisbee golf, obstacle course, rifle range shooting and a waterslide.”
After eight years there have been some great outcomes. One of these has been a teenage leaders group, who are trained to look after younger ones. This group meets throughout the year for motivational and team-building activities. Camp leaders have seen this group grow in confidence and responsibility and teen leaders are refusing holiday job opportunities, choosing instead to be a leader at Day Camp.
Alistair, himself a retiree, remains committed and enthusiastic. “It is wonderful being part of a group that has a range of skills that all slot in together, and it is a joy to be in a place where the churches are working together in this way. Best of all, we are investing in our community’s most precious asset – our children.”