YMCA Spring campers squawk, quack and hiss for reading skills

Published 11:00 am Friday, March 14, 2014

Caitlin Doyle holds a snake while listening to a macaw at YMCA’s Spring Break camp.

Caitlin Doyle holds a snake while listening to a macaw at YMCA’s Spring Break camp.

Lions and tigers and bears? Try macaws, ducks and snakes.

About 75 children participating in the YMCA’s Spring Break camp got an up-close look at four ducks, three snakes, two dogs, a turtle and a macaw — a long-tailed parrot — as part of the camp’s theme based on the 2000 children’s book, “Because of Winn Dixie.”

Mille Wolfe, director of camping and childcare, said the theme was chosen after she read an article about the book, which she previously used when she was the GATES teacher at Bowmar Avenue.

“It’s just a great story,” she said. “I’ve always loved the book.”

The book tells the story of 10-year-old India Opal, the daughter of a preacher who adopts a scruffy dog that was wreaking havoc in one of the grocery chain’s stores. She claimed the dog as her own before it’s sent to the pound, naming it after the store in which she found it. The dog inspires her to begin learning about her mother, who had abandoned the family years earlier due to alcoholism.

Brooke Turner and Sebastian Tuminelo hold baby ducks.

Brooke Turner and Sebastian Tuminelo hold baby ducks.

She also visits a wealthy librarian, pet store and witch in her adventures.

Wolfe said the book is well-suited to teaching children lessons without them realizing, something that made it perfect for the Spring Break camp.

“Y-USA has got a program where they’re starting to stress reading in camps,” she said. “The idea is to increase literacy even when they’re not in school.”

For the past week, 76 students have spent a full day at the YMCA.

In the morning, students listen to counselors read five chapters before visiting different areas with themes from the books.

The most popular area by far, Wolfe said, is Otis’ Pet Shop, which is based on one of the prominent locations in the book.

Wolfe, who already owned three snakes and whose daughter owns two dogs, said George Carr brought Scarlet, the macaw who would occasionally let out a squawk.

Wolfe said the campers did not know what to expect. One day, a counselor in a bear costume surprised the students during reading time in an incident based off a surprise visit from a bear in the woods.

“It unfolded as a surprise each day,” she said. “The kids have loved it.”

The YMCA hosts camps during any extended holidays from school, Wolfe said.

After spring break, the next camping opportunity will be summer camp sessions at Camp Warner-Tully in Claiborne County, with the first session set to start June 8.

For more information about the camps, contact Wolfe at 601-638-1071 or by email at millewolfe@vicksburgymca.com.