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A great gift: summer camp

The Staff at YMCA Camp Cormorant help kids of all backgrounds and income levels mix it up and have a great camp experience every summer. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Many adults can look back on a time in their childhood when they attended camp.

Maybe they learned to swim there. Maybe they learned to ride a horse. Maybe they made friends they still keep in touch with. Regardless, summer camp is not something that’s quickly forgotten.

And many of the deprived children of Becker County will also have those experiences and memories because of donations to send them to summer camp.

“The community really supports this. We don’t have a line item for this in our budget,” said Donna Richgels, social service supervisor with Becker County Human Services.

Each year Family and Children Services caseworker Terri Quittschreiber sends out a letter to businesses, asking for donations to provide foster care children and underprivileged children of Becker County with the opportunity for a life-changing experience.

The kids attend camps at various locations around the area including YMCA Camp Cormorant, Camp Trowbridge near Vergas and Camp Character near Park Rapids, which specializes in children with autism.

“We have a lot of kids that have those needs,” she said.

Many of the older teenagers that get to attend camp choose to attend camp in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, where they learn team building skills, self-esteem and outdoor and wilderness survival skills.

Some kids also attend day camp with the Boys and Girls Club in Detroit Lakes through these donations.

Because of the support from the community, Richgels and Quittschreiber said, the human services department is also able to tap into a grant through the Pohlad Foundation for more funding. Last year they were able to send 61 children to camp.

“They can see what a difference it can make in kids and families,” Richgels said of the Pohlad Foundation. “They like to partner with communities who are committed to kids.”

Some of the major contributors over the years have been BTD, Kiwanis Club, Foltz Trucking and SJE Rhombus.

Quittschreiber said it’s amazing to read the thank you letters the kids write for receiving the camp experience. It was maybe the first hot meal they’ve eaten, or the first hot shower they’ve taken. Or maybe it was the first time they were taken out of the caregiver role for their siblings and simply got to be a kid themselves for a week.

“Camp is just outside any possibilities,” Richgels said of those who normally wouldn’t be able to afford going to camp. “This opens up their eyes.”

The program has been under Becker County Human Services for more than 20 years. Richgels said years ago it was great to be able to send at least eight to 10 kids. Now they try for more and more each year, serving in the 60s now.

“It’s helping the community, too,” Quittschreiber said, by giving kids a positive experience.

And in all those years and all those kids, never has a kid gone home early from camp. Instead, they start with the mini camps and ask to stay the duration of camp because they are having so much fun.

Which kids get to attend camp is decided on a first come, first serve basis, and Quittschreiber said they try to get those kids who have never been to camp before there as well.

There are 104 children in foster care through Becker County – a number that fluctuates daily. There are about 230 other children in Becker County at risk of foster care placement because of their home environment.

Years after they’ve gone to camp, Quittschreiber said she hears stories from kids about how they rode horses or banana boats and she can see it’s made a difference in their lives.

“Kids need to be able to be kids,” Richgels said. “These are the building blocks to being a healthy adult.”

Anyone interested in donating money for the summer camp program can contact Quittschreiber at 847-5628 ext. 5371, or Becker County Human Services, Attn: Terri Quittschreiber, 712 Minnesota Ave., Detroit Lakes, MN 56501.