YMCA summer camps offer fun, education

Summer campers at the YMCA of Greater Birmingham’s Hargis Retreat in Chelsea spent a recent morning racing through “lasers,” uncoding a message, dressing up like a superhero and digging in a pan shaving cream—and that was just the start of the day.

YMCA facilities in Shelby County offer a multitude of opportunities for fun and education during the summer.

Program Executive Kim Sharp said the Hargis Retreat Camp runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week for 10 weeks and is all outdoors—programs are only held inside in the event of inclement weather.

Participants pay a week at a time, as there is no requirement for campers to commit for the entire summer.

The number of Hargis campers, ranging in age from 5-15, averages from 80-100 each week.

When the Hargis campers are combined with visitors from YMCA branches and the Hoover Youth Center, youth at the site can number 400 on a given day.

Specialty camps are also offered at Hargis, including rock climbing, adventure sports (sailing, kayaking, mountain biking, etc.), outdoor survivor skills and fishing.

Hargis Retreat offers transportation for high-volume areas, with a route up U.S. 280 to Mountain Brook Community Church, and out Valleydale Road to Lowe’s.

The other side of the Hargis Retreat business is facilities rental.

The retreat includes seven lodges, an all-purpose building that can accommodate about 300 people and a dining hall that can serve 250-300 people.

The largest lodge sleeps 100 people bunk-style, and the smallest lodge sleeps 15.

In addition to the facilities, Hargis Retreat offers full food services, lifeguards for the pool and access to the lake. The staff can also offer team-building exercises if desired.

“We’re just a blank slate for whatever people want to come in and do,” Sharp said.

Sharp said the majority of rentals are for church camps.

College organizations like sororities also visit Hargis, and family reunions and picnics are common.

Hargis Retreat encompasses about 200 acres of property. Hargis Chapel, a well-known wedding venue, is owned and maintained by a separate organization, the Hargis Foundation.

Greystone YMCA is one of the branches that sends campers to Hargis—and is an example of a branch that is on the cutting edge of summer camp programs.

The Greystone camp runs from May 30 to Aug. 4 this year with about 225 participants from preschoolers through rising eighth graders, Summer Day Camp Coordinator Karlie Heckman said.

The traditional camp has programming from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. that includes partnerships with Heardmont Park and North Shelby Library in addition to Hargis.

Field trips are taken to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, the McWane Center, the Birmingham Zoo and even roller skating.

Specialty and sports camps include activities from tennis to Minecraft.

A new opportunity this summer is Zero Robotics, a five-week program being piloted at Greystone, according to Childcare Program Director Nadin Johnson.

Twelve teens are participating in the international high school programming competition where students control robotic SPHERES aboard the International Space Station.

A Greystone staff member, Jason Russell, went through day-long training and webinars to facilitate Zero Robotics.

“We are excited about this,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for our teens this summer.”