Ocean Community YMCA asks Stonington to help fund new camp building
Mystic—The Ocean Community YMCA has requested that the Town of Stonington include $125,000 in its 2023-24 capital improvement budget to help construct an 800- square-foot building to support its Camp Cove youth summer program.
The request would help offset the cost of the estimated $600,000 project at the Naik family branch on Harry Austin Drive and decrease the need for grant funding and donations.
The building is intended to provide a rainy day shelter for the up to 300 children, ages 4-14, who attend the camp. The request now goes to the Board of Finance which will decide whether to include it in the 2023-24 budget.
Approximately 40%, or 120, of the children that attend the camp, which runs in two-week sessions for 10 weeks each summer, are from Stonington, and limited space keeps those numbers from growing, said Sheila Litty, the YMCA’s vice-president of operations.
“We typically have 300 kids each week, and we could take more if we had another shelter,” she said.
Most camp programming, including canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming lessons, archery and a nature program, takes place outdoors.
“We keep all the campers outside; we set up tents. We do programs that are inside the branch, but most of it’s on the waterfront,” she said, adding, “there is no shade, and those kids are out in the sun for seven, eight hours a day.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the camp served approximately 150 children each summer, but a scholastic support center developed during hybrid learning, which hosted approximately 100 students from five school districts on distance learning days, exposed families to the YMCA and led to higher summer enrollment, doubling the previous camp population.
“We literally have a wait list every session now, so our limiting factor is, honestly, rainy days,” Litty said.
On rainy days or in the event of thunder and lightning, staff and campers must be moved indoors. The main building does not have space for additional campers, but a new shelter would be able to host an additional 100 children, for a total of 400 campers.
Approximately 20% of campers in the program receive financial aid amounting to almost the full tuition cost. Stonington campers account for 22% of campers receiving some level of tuition assistance, Litty said.
“No child ever gets turned away, so we work with families to figure out how we can make it work for them,” Litty said, explaining that though tuition is initially based on household income, unique situations are also considered.
Old garage bays near the baseball field will be torn down and be replaced by the new structure which will have sliding barn doors on two sides which can be opened for a more outdoor feel and closed during rainstorms or thunder and lightning storms. The rear of the proposed building will have a covered patio which will serve as sun shelter.
If built, the new building will house outdoor bathrooms, some program storage and serve as the welcome center and drop off area.
Litty said that if the YMCA can raise half, or $300,000, of the estimated cost of the project, it will begin construction in September and the building will be available for campers when Camp Cove begins in 2024.