‘Wonderful place to just be a kid’

Published 10:02 am Monday, May 4, 2015

GETAWAY: Campers paddle at the YMCA's annual Warner-Tully Camp in Claiborne County.

GETAWAY: Campers paddle at the YMCA’s annual Warner-Tully Camp in Claiborne County.

Just 20 miles south of Vicksburg, life is different in the summer. Instead of playing video games inside, children run and play in the great outdoors, and make new friends — no cellphones or gadgets. This place is a true community where folks eat together, play together and learn to respect one another.

Surging enrollment at the only overnight YMCA camp in Mississippi, gives testament to a place for children to unplug for a while.

Warner-Tully YMCA Camp is owned and operated by the Vicksburg YMCA and is now in its 55th year, serving girls and boys ages 6 to 16 through five one-week sessions and one three-night mini session.

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“Camp really gives children so many opportunities to grow and learn about God’s creation,” said Allison East, co-camp director. “Personally, I would have never learned how to shoot a bow and arrow or a .22 rifle, I would never have encountered so many people who are different than me, and I would have one less bridesmaid in my wedding if it weren’t for Warner-Tully.”

FUN: Campers slide down a hill at Warner Tully.

FUN: Campers slide down a hill at Warner Tully.

East said a typical camp day includes eating three great-tasting meals, swimming in the pool, playing on the ropes course, hanging out with friends at Hammock Cove and participating in campwide games.

“While we have nice, air-conditioned cabins and renovated bathrooms, campers don’t come for that,” she said. “Our main focus is to get them outdoors. Whether they’re canoeing, playing Gaga or having a scavenger hunt, we want campers to have a great time in a safe environment.”

Camp Co-Director Mille Wolfe echoed East’s comments about safety.

“Every cabin has two well-trained counselors and 10 campers,” Wolfe said. “It’s a really great ratio. We also have leaders in training and counselors in training who share some responsibilities and give us extra sets of eyes.”

Camp counselor Patrick Coccaro said this will be his third summer working at camp.

“I had to do a little rearranging in my class schedule to be able to be there, but to me it’s worth it,” he said. “The campers and the counselors become like family.”

The camp’s size, 125 campers max, is one reason campers and counselors become so close, Coccaro said.

“It’s small enough to where you get to meet and know everyone at camp throughout the week,” he said.

Grayson Rankin, a 12-year-old camper, said this is his seventh summer at Warner-Tully and he loves coming back.

“My favorite part is when we go to the lake,” Grayson said. “There’s a zipline and a lake toy. It’s so much fun.”

He said he also looks forward to coming back because the counselors are nice.

Wolfe said the Warner-Tully counselors are carefully selected and love kids.

“They’re dedicated and responsible young adults, and they’re willing to do whatever’s needed — from having their faces painted to being smashed with a battle ball,” she said. “And all of our counselors and campers are accepted for who they are.”

Being unique is part of the magic of camp, East said.

“It’s an incredible part of Warner-Tully,” she said. “Who you are at home or whatever silly thing you do really doesn’t matter. We love everyone for the silly things they do. It’s a wonderful place to just be a kid.”

Wolfe said she feels the camp magic in a variety of ways.

“It’s the best place to spend time with old friends and to make new friends,” she said. “When kids cry not to go home, you know you’re doing something right.”

Lilli Clare Feibelman, 6, attended the three-night mini session in 2014 and is one of the many campers already signed up for this summer.

“I think it was cool that I got to sleep on a bunk bed,” she said. “Plus we got to eat in a cool cafeteria, and I liked the food. I liked when my mommy and daddy came to pick me up in the cool cafeteria.”

Lilli Clare said she liked being so close to her counselors.

“It was cool that they got to sleep on bunk beds too,” she said.

Warner-Tully is currently taking registrations for the 2015 season and spots are limited. Financial assistance is available.

For more information, call the Vicksburg YMCA at 601-638-1071 or email Allison East at allison@vicksburgymca.com.