The experience that more than two dozen kids will enjoy this summer at Camp Lots-of-Fun, Family Promise’s camp for homeless and disadvantaged kids, is largely the result of the efforts of one woman – Cindy Blinn, who for 14 years was camp director.
This summer Cindy turns the reins over to Blake Visconti, the camp’s new director. But her contributions won’t be forgotten.
“The camp was in existence before I came along, but on a much smaller scale,” with fewer activities and counselors, she recalls. Over the years, she improved and expanded the camp experience, all while developing programs, hiring staff and running daily operations.
“Basically, Cindy transformed the camp into what it is today – a fun, exciting diversion from the stress and uncertainty of being homeless,” says Kate Duggan, director of Family Promise of Bergen County. “We’re happy Cindy will continue to direct our Youth Council for the Homeless.”
Homelessness can rob children of their childhood. But Camp Lots-of-Fun helps 25-30 young campers, from ages 5 through 12, to take it back. Adventures, cooperative play, and exciting, shared experiences build their confidence and self-esteem, and leave them with happy memories. It’s a safe, loving environment where they can have fun and make friends. Most campers are current or former residents of Family Promise sheltering programs.
Camp is held during the last two weeks of August this year at the Central Unitarian Church in Paramus. The scheduling is deliberate, since many other camps and summer programs end in mid-August, leaving poor families with no provision for day care.
“We want to give our kids all the things that other kids get, so we jam everything we can into those two weeks” at the end August, says Blake. “We help to give them a level playing field for when they go back to school.”
Blake is a Wyckoff native who teaches grade fourth and fifth grade special education in West Milford. She graduated from Ramapo College in 2009 with a psychology major, and got a dual certificate to teach elementary and special education after completing her graduate studies at William Paterson University in 2012.
Before joining the West Milford district she was a preschool teacher at Apple Montessori schools. She also worked at West Bergen Mental Health, dealing with patients suffering from schizophrenia.
Camp Lots-of-Fun has several paid senior staffers and more than 20 volunteer high school age counselors, which allows for a one-to-one camper-to-counselor ratio. This summer, in addition to the usual outdoors and crafts activities, there’ll be a special focus on reading. During a “Drop Everything and Read” period, counselors will read to campers, and try to get them interested in books. Campers also will be given books to take with them.
With an eye on September, campers will receive back to school supplies stuffed in backpacks. The camp can still use donations, including spiral and composition notebooks, pencils, markers and crayons.
“These kids need a chance, more than anything,” Blake says. “They just need a friend, a role model, a little love and attention. So that’s what we try to give them.”