SUNNY DAYS ON LAKE ERIE, with acres of forest for shade.
A week of physical activity spent among nature rather than in front of a TV or behind a computer screen.
A lifetime of memories that better prepare youth for the challenges of the future.
Such are the attractions of Camp Fitch, the Youngstown YMCA's generations-long destination for both character-building among youth and as a year-round outdoor lab for many area schools.
The camp, in operation since 1924, is gearing up for another summer season. Its rustic experience coupled with some modern conveniences and choices of what to do has enabled it to remain viable in an age where children are saturated with electronic alternatives.
Comfort in the outdoors
Camp Fitch, consisting of 450 acres at North Springfield, Pa., with a mile of lake frontage, allows campers the experience of living outdoors without sacrificing some modern conveniences, camp Director Bill Lyder said. Children stay in "cabents," which he said are pavilion roofs over concrete pads with canvas sides. Four bunk beds accommodate seven campers and a counselor.
What Lyder described as "very modern baths and showers on-site, along with a lodge for meals and a new pool house" seems to be "what people want and kids expect."
Stays of a week or more are available at Camp Fitch. It's time designed to appeal to the modern child both in terms of what there is to do, and the child's individual role in selecting it. "We allow the kids to take part in what they want to," Lyder said. "They have a choice of four to five activities each hour of the day."
The list seems nearly endless -- swimming, boating, water skiing (there's a pool and an inland lake in addition to Lake Erie), climbing a 40-foot tower, horseback riding, hiking, archery, rocketry, games and crafts, to highlight just part of the repertoire. The activities are all supervised and are conducted at age-appropriate levels for kids 8 to 10, 11 to 12 and 13 to16 years old, Lyder said.
The Camp Fitch crew must be doing something right: Attendance has broken records the last two years, according to assistant Director Greg Donahue, who's currently overseeing daily activities at the camp. He said the campers are primarily from northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania, but others come from farther destinations for a week by the lake.
A different opportunity
"For some of these kids, it's the first time they've ever seen the lake, or a big body of water," he said. "It's a chance for them to go climbing, meet new friends ... it's the kind of thing many kids are not exposed to."
Through each activity, the YMCA is also striving to positively develop the character of the individual campers, providing lessons which the staff believes will serve them well in life.
"Good things happen when kids go camping," Lyder believes. The learned skills, association with others and the self-sufficiency emphasized at camp eases the transition to college and adult life, he maintains.
Camp Fitch also offers special one-week camps for activities like swimming, distance running and even computers, as well as special sessions for disabled children and adults. Scholarships to help defray costs are available to children who meet the income guidelines for summer food service meals. For more information on the camp, call the YMCA at (330)744-8411.
The YMCA believes that a summer at Camp Fitch is time a child won't forget. "Hopefully, we're going to make memories for life," Donahue said. "That's the name of the game."