Summer Adventures, the Bedford Recreation Department’s six weeks of children’s day camp, is its own universe.
The headlines, the weather, the struggles of the Red Sox – these are just footnotes to the main event, an atmosphere replicated since the annual offering was launched 38 years ago.
“It is six weeks of a community within itself, its own culture,” said Peter Laskaris, who has directed Summer Adventures for the past 10 seasons. “There have been some changes, but the formula is the same: Summer is a place for kids to go have fun and create their own space.”
Summer Adventures is organized into three groups, defined by participants’ age. Junior Adventures covers four-year-olds to children entering kindergarten. The division called Summer Adventures is for campers moving into first through fourth grades. And incoming fifth, sixth, and seventh grades enroll in Adventures Away with an itinerary featuring daily trips.
Recreation Director Josh Smith shared some metrics that testify to the success of Summer Adventures in 2023:
- An average of 320 kids per week in the three divisions combined. Laskaris said that most kids sign up for two sessions.
- Total professional staff of 60 plus a record 68 counselors-in-training. Smith said his department paid for all staff to receive training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
- Minimal wait lists for all except the older division. “We worked weekly to add staff, thus adding kids into the camp from the waitlists,” he said. “BHS Principal Heather Galante and her staff allowed us to use more space at the high school, which allowed us to expand by 12 kids per session, and we are very appreciative.”
“When you get a taste of being part of a summer day program, it’s something unique and special,” Laskaris said. “Being part of Bedford Summer Adventures, with its history, has been even more special, coming back every year and seeing the same structure but different faces and just the growth of everybody.”
“I have staff who I remember as kids who were four and five years old. This year they were counselors. That keeps you coming back.”
Kevin Smaldone, like Laskaris, is a second-grade teacher at Davis School and is the assistant camp director in charge of day-to-day operations. He said he addresses “the logistical concerns, making sure everybody got what they needed, that parents know where everybody’s going – the stuff that lets the magic happen.
“Bedford just surrounds kids with good people,” Smaldone said. “That helps foster kids to become good people, and we really see that through the six weeks. They become our CITs, our counselors, and the ecosystem of joy and bringing kids together.”
There are three other assistant directors. Ben Richter, an alumnus of Summer Adventures, manages the Adventures Away program. Maria Linnehan is responsible for the counselor-in-training program. “This year’s 68 was the largest group we have ever had for CITs, and Maria played an integral role in managing and teaching them,” Smith said.
The director also applauded Kelsey Butler’s role as administrative assistant. “She does a lot of back-end and organizing of Summer Adventures. She coordinates much of the behind-the-scenes tasks needed to keep this large operation running,” he explained.
“Peter gets to be the CEO and Kevin gets to be the COO,” Smith said. Laskaris praised the historic “support we get from the Recreation Department to create what we do every year.” The assistant directors, beginning before each season, “do vital work, making things happen. My job is to have conversations about the big picture, which is always about kids being safe and having a great time.”
“We work together to make sure all the pieces align so the vision of a great summer comes to fruition,” Smaldone said.
“What makes Summer Adventures special are the participants and the counselors,” Laskaris testified. “I can’t say enough about the work they do every summer.” There are some returning college students, but most of the counselors are high school students. “It’s a big responsibility and they do it selflessly with enthusiasm – they happily do it in the rain.”
Smaldone added, “I think it might have been week one when we were talking about how close this staff felt to each other from the get-go, seeking each other out and coming together as a unit.”
The counselors have a basic template for activities, and “we’re always creating more experiences,” Laskaris said. “You have to have structure and a schedule so they can feel safe to be creative.” Campers all travel daily to Springs Brook Park for swim lessons – “a vital part of what we do.”
Adventures Away, the daily travel program, picks destinations that can accommodate up to 70 middle school kids. The summer’s itinerary included the Museum of Science, Fenway Park, Water Country, King’s Bowling. Richter, Laskaris said, “created not only trip opportunities but also activities to do in down times.”
Smaldone pointed out that this was Adventures Away’s first year using John Glenn Middle School as a base, so “it was uncharted territory.” Laskaris thanked school officials and the Facilities Department. “They take care of us and we couldn’t be happier.”
Despite frequent rain, “we fared pretty well throughout the summer,” Smaldone said. “Our staff has incredible flexibility and there was a website set up to check which groups were in which rooms to make sure space was utilized indoors. We were very fortunate that the staff was so flexible. They found creative ways to still make the magic happen.” He noted, “We didn’t have to cancel Springs Brook Park except for one day.”
Summer Adventures is inclusive, said Smith, who noted that he and Laskaris have met with Marianne Vines, the schools’ director of special education, and her staff.
“Any child with special needs assimilates into our program, and Peter finds staff to work with them.” Students in the extended school year classes join Summer Adventures for the afternoon, he added.
“It’s a new inclusionary model,” Laskaris said. “There’s a lot of staff time that goes into this.” Smaldone cited Cody Alatt, a teaching aide at Davis School, as an example, who joined the Summer Adventures staff to teach archery, but works one-to-one “anytime he had opportunities in his schedule.”
“There is space for everyone,” Smaldone said “Kids who struggle in a traditional model can find a place where they can feel and make connections.”
Smith cited the department’s scholarship fund, used for all programs. “We give out aid to families that need it, to any family who wants to attend camp.
“The feedback from the families is overwhelmingly positive,” said Smith. “It’s really great to get emails about how much kids and parents benefit from the experience. But we welcome all feedback. We’re always asking, “How can we get better? How can we include even more kids?’” We work diligently to make sure that we can accommodate as many kids as we possibly can.”
Asked when the staff starts thinking about next summer, Laskaris laughed, saying, “About midway through first session this summer.” Real planning begins as soon as late September. “We’ll take a month or six weeks to breathe and do some reflection,” Smith said. Planning starts in the fall, we order equipment in February and March, and staff recruitment goes all year long.