Participants at the Jr. REC Camp 2015 program enjoy one of the many themed activities offered by the SBRPD.

Kids are Key at Parks and Rec: Jr. REC Camp Receives Grant and State Licensure

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Thursday June 02, 2016

The South Burlington Recreation and Parks Department (SBRPD) has been busy enhancing their programs and offerings. Between a newly awarded grant and obtaining licensing from the State of Vermont, the SBRPD Junior REC Camp continues to offer enriching summer opportunities for the city’s children.

The SBRPD was recently awarded a $35,000 grant from the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA). The grant, which works in partnership with the Walmart Foundation, is to support children’s health through parks and recreation programs, in particular by increasing healthy meals and nutrition education during the summer, when children do not have access to meals through school. SBRPD Director Maggie Leugers applied for the NRPA grant earlier this year, and says, “Our recreation and parks department is vital to the health and wellness of our community. This grant will allow us to increase youth participation in our out-of-school summer camp and improve quality of life for our kids and families.”

According to SBRPD Assistant Director, Holly Baker, the newly acquired funds will help the department with their Jr. REC Camp. She says, “It infuses our already stellar camp experience with daily wholesome, nutritious lunches and snacks provided by the dedicated staff at South Burlington Nutritional Services.” Baker notes that although “the NRPA grant won’t cover the meal cost itself, it supports the work of nutrition and physical activity education.” She says, “The department made the decision to include daily meals in the cost of camp, so every camper will benefit from the daily healthy meal and snack component of camp.”

In addition, kids in the SBRPD Jr. REC Camp will have the opportunity to assist in planting and harvesting food weekly, through field trips to South Village and working with the Common Roots farmers. Baker adds, “Healthy food choices and the importance of regular physical activity will be promoted by weekly sessions with the experts at Body Resolutions, who have partnered with us in our Commitment to Health program.” A five-year campaign by NRPA that supports the implementation and evaluation of Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards in park and recreation sites, Commitment to Health helps ensure that children in out-of-school programs receive healthy food and adequate physical activity time to make each child happier and healthier, and to combat inactivity trends in our nation’s youth. Baker adds, “NRPA plans to have at least 2,000 sites implementing HEPA standards in their out-of-school programs by the end of the five-year campaign. We were eager to be among the first to sign on!”

South Burlington School District (SBSD) Nutritional Services Director Rhonda Ketner, who assisted Leugers in collecting information for the grant, says, “We are very excited to partner with the City of South Burlington, Common Roots, and Body Resolutions to offer nutritious meals and food education to the Jr. Rec Camp participants, and we also hope that this is just the beginning.”

Ketner explains that since her department operates as an enterprise fund, which means they are a self-sustaining and funded entity, “It is extremely important to develop additional revenue streams through local partnerships within the community.” She notes that the district does not meet the federal guidelines that would enable her department to operate a free summer feeding program to support low-income families. According to Ketner, this is because most grant opportunities are based on ‘percentages’ and SBSD has one of the lowest “Free & Reduced Lunch Program” percentages in Vermont, thus making grant funding difficult to secure. She notes that the use of percentage statistics to determine eligibility is unfortunate in the case of feeding kids in the summer, as it does not also take into account population numbers. Although the district has a low number percentage-wise of students in need, that number is actually approximately 500 students who, according to Ketner, are eligible for summer meal programs.

Ketner is passionate about her department and desire to feed kids healthy, nutritional foods. She says that although her department will not receive funds from the NRPA grant directly, it does cover other costs for the recreation department, and thus allows all campers to have access to the meals, regardless of income. “Healthy meals are now just one of the added benefits of attending SBRPD’s Jr. REC Camp,” says Ketner, adding, “We are very grateful for this opportunity.”

Karyl Kent, who works in Ketner’s department as production supervisor and camp chef, says, “The SBRPD’s Commitment to Health program is a natural partnership with our Nutritional Services Department’s standards of serving fresh, made from scratch, local foods.” She reports that all menu items are nutritionally balanced using whole grains, low fat, low sugar preparations and focusing heavily on fresh vegetables and fruits with our daily fresh fruit and salad bar, adding, “Special dietary needs are always considered and accommodated so all campers have a delicious, fun experience.”

In addition to securing the NRPA grant, the recreation department’s Jr. REC Camp is now an officially licensed childcare summer program, thanks to a collaborative department effort by Baker, Leugers, and Recreation Specialist Brett Leonard. Baker, who calls the application process for the camp to be state licensed “a labor of love,” explains that licensing will give access to childcare funds to families in need through the State of Vermont’s Building Bright Futures Program. In addition, licensed status gives access to exceptional training opportunities for the department’s summer staff as well as access to potential future grants.

“Becoming a licensed childcare program is an important step in meeting the needs of our community and we are proud to offer this affordable option,” says Baker. The department says they are looking forward to continued partnership with all state agencies, including the Department of Children and Families. Families interested in learning about resources to attend SBRPD’s Jr. REC Camp can contact either the SBRPD at 802-846-4108 or Child Care Resource at 802-863-3367.

The SBRPD Jr. Rec Camp programs begin June 20 and run through August 12. Their day camps have always offered a variety of fun summer themes in the categories of recreation, sports, arts, and nature programs - now kids can have lunch too.