CONCORD, CA – Spirits soared as high as the colorful parachute that kids played with at Cambridge Park on July 9, as community and business leaders gathered to celebrate a new free outdoor summer camp.
The Summer Pop-Up Camp is free to Concord children. It takes place 9-11 a.m. Fridays at the Lacey Lane park off Monument Boulevard. More than 50 children have enrolled in the camp, which requires registration with Boys & Girls Clubs of Contra Costa.
The nonprofit organization runs the camp, long planned by city leaders and made possible with community donations. Organizers hope to find a permanent site to continue this first step.
Nearly two dozen leaders, including city, business, state and elected representatives, joined staff and board members of the Martinez-based organization to recognize the community accomplishment.
“This is a little more than a ribbon-cutting for a summer camp,” said Michael Dunn, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Contra Costa. “We’re here, and we are going to change lives.”
Dunn described the camp as a “safe place for all Monument kids to come have fun, learn and make new friends. This is such an important experience for kids, especially after a year and a half of distance learning.”
Inspiration from Aliano
Dunn drew laughs describing a force behind the plan as “a man in a long trench coat” who arrived at the Martinez center more than two years ago, introducing himself as newly elected Concord City Councilmember Dominic Aliano.
Now the city’s vice mayor, Aliano later acknowledged his role as a visionary. “When I got elected, I asked, ‘What are we missing?’ It was more recreational opportunities for children. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I got in touch with the Boys & Girls Club.”
Aliano pointed to the cohesive effort from city leaders, including the Parks and Recreation Department and donations of $25,000 each from Marathon Petroleum and the Concord Police Officer’s Association.
“They were here in a heartbeat and wrote a check. These are the people they serve. These are the people we serve. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Aliano said. “These are the kind of relationships we need to extend services to people who need them.”
State Sen. Steve Glazier thanked all of the organizers. “This really matters, and it has made a difference,” he said.
Expanding young minds
The end of the short ceremony marked the start of the camp day for about 25 children, who arrived for a morning of fun.
“It’s been a treat to work with the young kids,” said Alicia Marazzani, a youth program manager who leads the organization’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) programs for middle school kids during the regular school year.
As she organized canvas and paint supplies, she described the previous weeks’ activities. This includes making solar ovens one week and “fireworks” from Alka Seltzer tablets, paint and film canisters the next.
“We have to be really flexible and prepared to do an activity with all ages of kids,” she said before joining co-leader Jasper Ormeo in unrolling a large colorful parachute that immediately drew in the enthusiastic kids.
Tara Kopp, district staff member for U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, praised the efforts.
“They do incredible work, especially to expand and provide this opportunity for kids,” Kopp said. “It’s been a difficult year – this is important to keep people connected.”
Development director Rebecca Barrett called the program a first step into Concord for the Boys & Girls Clubs, with a next one already planned.
“This is only the beginning. I hope we can really grow this. We’re looking for brick and mortar,” Barrett said. “Stay tuned for an actual grand opening,” she added, “hopefully coming soon – January 2022 – a permanent center in the Monument Corridor.”
For more information on the Summer Pop-Up Camp or other programs, visit bgccontracosta.org.
Karen Jenkins is pleased to be a correspondent with the Concord Clayton Pioneer News. She has worked as a community journalist on and off for three decades at publications including the Contra Costa Sun in Lamorinda; the Antioch Daily Ledger; the Avon-Beaver Creek Times in Colorado; Roll Call in Washington, D.C. and the Daily Nexus at UC-Santa Barbara. She is also the student advisor for The Sentinel, the student newspaper at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. She may be reached at Karenjenkins241@gmail.com.