By MELISSA SCHNEIDER
As the VIP Kids Eco-Arts summer camp gets ready to start the summer next week, plans have reached completion, the summer syllabus has been scheduled, and the kids and the counselors couldn't be more eager to begin.
Summer is officially here, and the first FMB VIP Kids Eco-Arts Summer Camp is ready to roll, with coordinators John G. Heim and Debbie Dunlap taking the helm. Campers will take fun eco-art trips all around the area on a regular basis in their fully-licensed, fully insured Kids’ VIP?van. All aboard! Photo by BOB PETCHER.
The very new, very hands-on Fort Myers Beach program is designed to not only distill local arts and nature into the campers, but to adapt to their interests, to help them explore what makes them unique. Whether they have an interest in learning a musical instrument, learning how to dance, how to paint, draw, sculpt or craft, the camp is designed to build their knowledge of what they enjoy, to not only keep them occupied throughout the summer months, but to help them advance and grow as a young individual.
Camp Coordinator Debbie Dunlap, who has been running the after-school VIP program at Beach Elementary School for the last two years and has more than 25 years of early childhood and elementary educator experience, has brought local artist John G. Heim into the fold to increase the program's depth, which is available for part-time and full-time students.
"All of the plans have fallen into place miraculously quickly. The kids are really excited to start the camp as much as we are," Debbie said. "We have the entire summer planned out, and the kids are going to have a blast."
With Memorial Day Monday, May 28, the first day of the VIP Kids Eco-Arts Summer Camp will begin Tuesday, May 29, calling St. Raphael's home base throughout the summer months.
"Since everyone knows the Beach School, that is where drop-off will be. From there, after some fun on the playground and a session of Laughter Yoga, we'll then drive the children in our fully-licensed-and-insured van to St. Raphael's," Debbie said.
The camp, specializing in hands-on, individualized art and nature exploration, has quite a packed schedule in store for campers this summer. Day No. 1, alone, will feature a trip to the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium; an intro to creative writing and drawing with special guest Laurie Nienhaus, where campers will start their own journals; a trip to the library to pick out their first book of personal artistic interest (whether it's learning how to play the guitar, how to paint, etc.), followed by a discussion of their book selection, which is how the counselors will help that child develop in their interest; then unwind with snack time and an eco film; find a good spot to plant a garden on St. Raphael's campus, and conclude with playground time.
Lunch and snacks are provided every day, and all field trips are included with enrollment. Ms. Nienhaus will assist the campers with their journals and writing every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The campers will hit plenty of great spots throughout the week, each and every week, including the Beach Library, the Beach Pool and other fun island locations, as well as take one or two big, special field trips to other great, local art and eco places at least one or two times a week, such as the Calusa Nature Center, Lakes Park, etc.
The kids will also take trips to CROW on Sanibel regularly, as part of a very special program offered by the nature group. At the end of the summer, they will become junior volunteers.
"Monday, June 4, is when we start up a great partnership with CROW on Sanibel," John said. "On rotating Mondays, we'll go to CROW for a three-hour block, and this is what will create the kids' hands-on certificate program, becoming a 'Junior Docent' at the end of the summer. It's a great program, where the kids will get individual patches for each course completed. On the last visit of the summer, we'll go back for a big certificate celebration and pizza party."
Also toward the end of the summer, after all they've learned in creative writing over the months, the campers will put on a big play, written, produced and starring the summer-campers, with the direction of Laurie Nienhaus.
Another fun and naturally artistic venture the children can look forward to will be making "Beautiful Junk," from otherwise tossed items on the beach.
"Our first exploration of creating beautiful junk art will be finding 'trash' on the beach and make art out of it," John said. "Therefore, we're not only cleaning up the beach, but making beautiful recycled art out of it at the same time."
Enrollments are still available, and the program is open for kids kindergarten up to those going into the sixth grade. Aside from the summer program, Debbie is eager to state that the FMB VIP Kid's Eco-Art Camp will take place throughout the school year, during holidays and teacher inservice days that may leaving them bored with nothing to do.
"After the summer, this will turn into an after-school program, as well as a day camp for those free days and free half-days the kids will have off. It's quality childcare that will constantly be evolving, and it's great for working parents, who would otherwise have to pay a sitter or take the day off from work," Debbie said.
John said any business or function that would like to host a benefit for the new kid's camp can feel free to call him at 407-460-6452. And, be sure to visit the camp's Facebook page by searching for "FMB VIP Eco-Arts Summer Camp for Kids."
"We want not only local people to like our page, but national and global people, to encourage the children, and to take time throughout the day to read the posts to the campers," John concluded. "Please click 'Like' to show support and solidarity for ecological exploration and artistic free-expression."
The FMB VIP Eco-Arts Summer Camp is every weekday, starting Tuesday, May 29. Drop-off is at Beach Elementary at 8 a.m. Pick-up is at St. Raphael's by 5 p.m. For more info, call Debbie at 677-7017.