For the past 10 years, Ernesto and I have been sending our kids to summer camp in one form or another via the Parks and Rec Department of the City of San Leandro. Of all the camps we’ve tried for them over the years, Chabot Day Camp has been one of their absolute favorites. Our kids are now 18 and 15, and this summer, one of our kids will be returning as a Counselor in Training or “CIT”, i.e.: assistant to the Senior Counselors who themselves, year after year, return to Chabot Day Camp. You know it is a great program when Counselors and kids keep coming back to see each other and to recreate the magic from the summers before.
In operation for three generations, Chabot Day Camp is held in Chabot Park (not to be confused with Lake Chabot) and runs like the famed sleepaway camps we tend to think of as mostly only occurring on the East Coast — just without the sleepover part or the travel!
One of the many fabulous staffers, who has shown nothing but love for our kids over many years, a constant for the program, is Camp Director, Liz “Skippy” Hodgins. Not surprisingly, Liz was a camper herself as a kid, and she joined the staff in 2011. “This is my twelfth summer, and I love it!” she says.
Liz describes why the camp and location are so special: “As soon as you step into Chabot Park, you are transported. It’s a magical place where kids can just be free and be themselves; they can be goofy and silly and no one is going to tell them to be quiet or stop singing and dancing! At the end of the day, kids go home so dirty and smelling like eucalyptus. And then it’s shower and lights-out. The kids are tired, the staff is tired — everyone gets 10 hours of sleep!”
She adds, “Camp is a great opportunity for kids to unplug, be outside, make new friends and engage in activities that boost self-esteem and build team-building and communication skills. For example, in arts and crafts, we really focus on the process. It doesn’t matter what the end product looks like! What the camper decides to do with the materials, how they put their own stamp on it — my favorite is how the results all look a little different!”
As Rec Supervisor, Liz oversees the staff at all of San Leandro’s camps: Chabot, plus Camp Hooty Hoo, located across town, and two preschool programs at different locations.
With Chabot Day Camp’s two-week sessions, the kids have ample time to settle in, bond with their Senior Counselors and CITs (who all have fun nicknames), and enjoy all the activities that one associates with sleepaway camp: campy camp songs (Flee-Fly, Flee, Fly Flo and Calam-eye, Calam-eye Calamine Lotion), capture the flag, dodgeball, art projects, and a home-grown theatrical performance at the end of the second week.
“Family Night is on the last Wednesday of each session. Families and staff and campers gather over food, we put on a show: each group sings songs or makes up a skit, or a dance routine. Some are funny and some are serious. The groups practice all session for this. Kids step outside their comfort zones, come out of their shells, and show their families what camp is all about.”
Besides the fact that the camp provides a fun, safe place for kids in nature during summer, what I as a parent appreciate most is that the program fosters relationships and leadership skills by providing a track for kids who have grown up going to the camp to become Senior Counselors in a paid position or even employees of the City’s Parks and Recreation division — which operates a variety of community enrichment programs throughout the city.
Another aspect of the camp that makes it special is how the city has kept it as affordable as possible. Fees for each two-week session currently range from $285-315 for residents and $333-365 for non-residents — and lunch is included in the price.
I grew up in a small town on a farm and sometimes city life is challenging for me. I miss the orchards and wide-open spaces and freedom of movement that was part of my childhood. But moving to the Bay Area gave me the diversity of community and a little more excitement with the bustle of city life that I craved.
While San Leandro is way more city than country, it retains a small-town feel with friendly neighbors and a great local school district, safe, flat streets where my kids can walk to school, and have had their share of running amok with their school and neighborhood friends. Also, my family’s farm had cherry orchards, and this city is known for the cherry groves that used to be here: the cherry is in the city’s emblem and they still hold an annual cherry festival, just like in my hometown.
Our kids have thrived here, and Chabot Day Camp is just one of the many reasons why we love San Leandro!