Camp Junior: Bronx Kids Return to Camp
This summer, Bronx kids returned to camp excited for a new adventure! “It was great to have campers back at camp, it felt like being back at home,” Director of Camp Junior and Fresh Air alum, Kayla Paulino, shared.
Camp Junior opened in 2019 in memory of 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz who fell victim to gang violence in 2018. Located at Harriman State Park, Camp Junior offers youth, ages 8-15, from the Bronx a safe space to enjoy outdoor activities including swimming, archery, kayaking, fishing and hiking.
Nature, Fresh Air and Fun
“This is my first time at camp, and I didn’t know that you get to do a lot of fun activities – I can’t get enough of them. I love being outdoors in nature – it helped me to try new things like archery. I learned that the harder you pull the arrow in archery the farther it goes,” 11-year-old camper, Marquis, shared.
Experiencing camp to the fullest means being open to new experiences and spending time in nature. It may be the first time youth experience activities like swimming at the lake, fishing, hiking or archery. It teaches them to step out of their comfort zone and try things in a safe space. Campers return home with more confidence to try new activities during the school year.
“Many of my camp friends had never been kayaking before, including me. Today we went kayaking, and some of us found it hard at first but through the experience we bonded and had fun,” 14-year-old, Elicia shared.
11-year-old Ulysses was excited to go to his chess class, “I’m getting into chess. Today they’re going to teach us how the knight moves. I like chess because I get to use strategy. My counselors teach us the rules and help us learn!”
When we asked Camp Junior campers about their favorite activities – many answered, chess! So, what makes chess so exciting at camp? Chess instructor, Dogan Koyunku, from Ankara, Turkey and an Economics student at Bilkent University, engaged campers by designing the curriculum to connect with possible real-life experiences. For example – Decision Making and Chess, Time Management and Chess, Probability and Chess and Problem Solving with Chess.
“After all these discussions and learning processes, the class would become much more connected to each other. They all were playing different levels of chess, so I encouraged them to teach each other. This learning, teaching and playing process continued in Cabin Time and Free Time throughout the camp session and it was incredible to see campers so excited about playing chess with each other after a long and tiring day full of physical activity,” Dogan shared.
More than a Summer
“My favorite is hearing the sounds of camp – the laughter, playing, music, excitement in the Gaga pit, yelling from the top of archery, cheering in the dining hall, the sound of jumping in the water, and the hugs and sad goodbyes because campers did not want to leave friends,” Kayla shared.
The best parts of camp are the memories we make and the friendships we formed. Camp Junior is special because campers have a shared bond that they are all from the Bronx and have experienced many firsts together. Camp Junior creates a community that supports each other.
“I have made so many great friends that I will stay friends with after camp. I made best friends here. When walking around my village, we sing different cartoon songs like Sophia the First and Dora the Explorer. It always makes me laugh,” Elicia said.
Counselor, Matthew Gold, from Scotland, UK was impacted by Junior’s story and was eager to be part of Camp Junior. He was a counselor for the boy cabins and a lifeguard this summer.
“The campers gave me valuable life lessons that I know I have carried home with me… I love how camp felt like this secure bubble, where it was a home away from home,” Matthew shared.
This summer at Camp Junior, youth discovered new talents, connected through art, learned new chess strategies, had fun at the lake and created memories that will last a lifetime!
“It’s hard to pick a favorite memory because I have so many. I loved watching the dance off in the dining hall even though I don’t know how to dance but I loved watching. Before camp, I was nervous. It was my first time at sleepaway camp, but then I got excited about all the fun activities. Now, I’d say camp is pretty cool. I’ll be back next year to make more memories and more friends,” 11-year-old camper, Nathaniel, shared.