There are 23,000 city children living in homeless shelters, but this summer, a few hundred of them had the chance to sleep in cabins at summer camp instead. NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ has the story.
Learning to swim in a clear lake. Making gooey s'mores around the campfire, waiting for the fish to bite, singing before, during and after lunch.
It's a classic, old fashioned sleepaway camp in Harriman State Park, about two hours outside of the city. But for the campers, who otherwise live in city homeless shelters, it's an extra special place.
"You have fun and you have sleepovers, too," said one camper.
"They're in small quarters most times in the shelter system, and the kids are experiencing a lot of situational anxiety, so this lets them get out of that situation, come here, relax and learn new skills," said Cara Pace of Homes for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization that runs four family homeless shelters and, since 1987, this summer camp.
One camper said she was surprised by seeing a frog. "Yep, because I've never seen a frog," she said.
About 500 campers ages six to 14 come to these woods every summer through Homes for the Homeless, staying for one of three 16-day sessions.
"They’re used to people giving up on them, so once you take that time and you go that extra mile to let them know, ‘Listen, I'm here for you, and we're going to stick with you through this,' they really start to cling to you, and they don't give up on you after that," said camp counselor Justin Parr.
Campers learn important life skills, like how to swim and ride a bike, as well as how to properly roast a marshmallow.
"Yesterday was my first s'more," said one boy.
"They get to make friends but also learn skills like how to be on a team, how to make decisions, coping skills. It's a really wonderful opportunity for them and then for their parents to be able to deal with the issues back at home, you know, maybe finding a new place to live, gaining employment," Pace said.
The real purpose of camp is for the kids to get to be kids, even if it’s just for two weeks.
"I'm going to come back all the times," one of the campers said.