By Maria Roman
Stepping onto the youth campsite during the week of July 20 at Devil’s Hopyard in East Haddam gave a feeling of walking into a village of children in the woods. There were 60 children with about 30 tents, set up for boys in one section and girls in another, a full kitchen with a stove converted to propane, large cooking grills, a U-Haul truck full of food, a portable sink with a tank of water attached, portable toilets and more. The cook, Magda Natal, along with a selection of youth, prepared meals from a pre-set menu, such as eggs on a raft, chili and barbeque chicken. At the end of each day, the youth would go trailing through the woods with flashlights to their tents after participating in structured learning activities.
“We had the best time ever; we’re coming back next year,” yelled a brother and sister who attended the camp for the first time.
Since 2001, Junta for Progressive Action, located in the predominately Latino neighborhood in the Fair Haven section of New Haven, has been offering a free camping experience to youth ages 8 – 12 who do not have the economic means to go camping.
In its fourteen years of existence, Big Turtle Village’s (BTV) five-day camping trip was conceived in the year prior when Junta’s youth trip was to an amusement park and the President of the Board at that time, Rafael Ramos, thought a camping trip that provided workshops related to the environment would be more meaningful.
The Executive Director of Junta, Sandra Trevino, explained that donations are the primary funding for BTV. The camp is run by adult volunteers and paid counselors from the City of New Haven’s Youth at Work Program. The curriculum included recycling, water conservation with paid and volunteer facilitators that came from private businesses for workshops, which included the Yale Peabody Museum’s “How to enjoy the forest at night” signaling out to owls and listening for the response. Others were “Art and Nature,” Storytelling, Yoga and Zumba. There were hikes to the water hole and offsite bus trips to Mystic Aquarium and Hammonassett Beach.
Traditionally, on the last night, there is a drumming circle. Michael Mills of New Haven began with a Brazilian Samba beat played on big Samba drums, djembes and congas. All the children went home with tickets for the Yale Peabody Museum, a book about oceanography, backpacks and t-shirts with the BTV logo.
For donations and more information: http://juntainc.org/programs/big-turtle-village/