Some children were hula-hooping and playing basketball in the gym at Cassina High School on Thursday, while others were outside making do-it-yourself slime.
They all appeared to be having a good time.
"Camp is going good. We've done a lot of fun activities, and it looks like a lot of new friendships have formed between kids," said Josh Clinger, coordinator of the Tuolumne County Recreation Department’s summer youth camp for children ages 6 to 14.
The camp, which was supposed to begin on June 17 and last through Aug. 1, almost didn’t happen this summer because the county couldn’t come up with $14,000 from its $78 million General Fund to rent the campus.
Cheaper alternatives that have hosted the program in the past couldn’t accommodate the program this year for various reasons.
Sonora Area Foundation stepped in and provided $7,000 through various donor funds. The county was able to negotiate the rental fees down to $11,000 with the Sonora Union High School District and provided the additional $4,000 that was needed.
Daniel Richardson, director of the county Recreation Department and General Services Agency, said there were more than 50 sign-ups within 24 hours of the news that the camp was going to happen.
“It was heartwarming, to say the least, to see the numbers come in,” he said.
Richardson said the camp started on July 1 and will end on Aug. 8 this year due to the lost weeks in June.
The program is popular each year with families, especially those with working parents, because it provides a low-cost place for them to take their children during the summer when school is out.
The seven-week program typically costs $240 for the full day from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, or $120 for just the morning or afternoon sessions. They are charging $105 for the half-day sessions and $210 for the full day this year due to the loss of a week.
“This is an excellent program, especially for the price,” Richardson said. “Many parents were so relieved to know that it was operating.”
There were previously 140 children on the waiting list when funding was in limbo. Clinger said there were 66 attending on Thursday and 63 of them are signed up for the full day.
Activities the children have done so far include coloring tiles, making bird seed bird feeders with the Tuolumne County Master Gardeners, and other crafts. They've also done played dodgeball, field hockey, and every Wednesday they play with hoses and water balloons.
Richardson said the county hired 20 people to oversee the program, 12 of whom were hired in the interim between the Sonora Area Foundation donating the money and when the camp started.
The camp operates at a loss to the county because it costs $50,000, and $20,000 is covered by the fees. The county Board of Supervisors has a policy to not charge more than a third of the cost for youth-oriented programs.
It was hosted for more than 20 years on the Sonora High campus until 2015, when the school started construction on several bond projects and subsequently raised the rental fees. It was hosted for three years after that at Soulsbyville Elementary and last year at Twain Harte Elementary, both of which were unable to accommodate it this summer.
There are also several other camps happening right now through the county Recreation Department, including art, horseback riding, and climbing. All of the county-maintained pools are open and doing swimming lessons and lap swims.
Richardson said they had a “phenomenal” turnout for the youth soccer camp this year. They had to postpone the annual youth track meet at Summerville High School from June 26 to July 26 because of staffing issues.
More than 100 runners, jumpers and throwers ranging in age from 1 to 14 typically participate in the track meet.
All programs offered by the county will be evaluated and have the potential to be eliminated in the coming months as the Board of Supervisors embarks on a massive reorganization to address a projected $3.7 million deficit in the operating budget for the current fiscal year.
Some county supervisors have openly suggested that services such as recreation programs and libraries could be at risk.
“Many recreation programs are loved by the community, and it’s obvious there’s a need,” Richardson said. “If the county doesn’t provide this service, then whom?”
Union Democrat photographer Maggie Beck contributed to this story.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.