(By Kim Ryan) Over the next several weeks I’ll be doing a series of articles highlighting local non-profit organizations benefiting from the work of The Fort Myers Beach Community Foundation. One of the organizations The Foundation helps is Bay Oaks.
This week I had the pleasure of visiting the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus to see the summer camp in action. I sat down with Recreation Campus Manager Jeff Hauge to discuss the benefits of the scholarship program which is supported, in part, by donations from the Community Foundation. During our interview, about 40 kids were in the gym playing, getting ready to settle down and listen to a presentation.
Jeff told me Bay Oaks has a “well rounded program that includes the arts, fitness and social recreation games to work on interaction skills.” They also bring in guest speakers from organizations such as the Fire Department, the Lee County Sheriff’s office, CROW and the United States Coast Guard. In fact, the Coast Guard was giving a presentation to the kids while I was interviewing Jeff.
The Bay Oaks Summer Camp typically has around 60 registered kids who are divided by grade into two groups, Kg-2 and 3rd-5th. While the camp is open to any child, kids who live on the beach get top priority. There is a cap on registration. The groups are separated most of the day and programming is tailored by age. They have a staff to kid ratio of about 1:8, however when they go on field trips that ratio is closer to 1:4. The safety of the children is priority whether they are at the center or in the community, at locations such as The Mound House, The Historical Cottage or Newton Beach Park .
The money donated by The Community Foundation goes to scholarships to help kids who may not be able to afford what Bay Oaks has to offer. Jeff said, “We don’t want money to be a barrier for kids attending.” The scholarships not only support kids who want to attend summer camp, but also helps during the school year for the Club Rec program, which is the afterschool program.
Jeff underscored the importance of summer camps and afterschool programs for kids. It gives them a place to meet other kids and socialize. “The other reason we love to have them here, and they love to be here, is they get some activity. We don’t want them sitting at home on their iPad or playing video games. We want them here.” Jeff says that’s why they don’t allow electronics at the facility. They want the kids playing in the gym or outside being active. He went on to say how important the Bay Oaks programs are for parents on the beach. “We want to be a service to the community for those working or residing on the island, they need a place for their kids to go.”
Jeff concluded our chat by expressing his gratitude for the donations. “We are really happy to have The Community Foundation, and other organizations, so we can have those kids come that need us the most, that want to be here and learn. We know they get that in school but we want to provide that for them year round.”