VISTA — Vista’s Winter day camp program got an environmental update this year as 12 children, ages 8 to 14, enrolled in a brand new Holiday Eco Camp from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2. The program is a collaboration between the city and Girls Inc., which test piloted the concept in 2004.
“We try to develop a sense of stewardship for the land, a sense of history,” Peg Crilly, camp director and 16-year youth programs veteran, said.
Based at the Vista Townsite Community Partnership, the campers made jewelry and ornaments from disposable materials. They made wrapping paper out of bags and circulars.
In one project, the campers used sweets to model the less-than-sweet problem of watershed pollution. Children whipped together a concoction of melted chocolate oil and powdered fruit punch industrial waste. Then they simulated rain from spray bottles that dissolved the mess, which ran into their simulated creek.
“When it washed into the ‘ocean,’ it was this greenish-pukish brown,” 11-year-old Alya Burnand said. “We learned that, no way, we don’t want to do that.”
Field trips were a large part of the curriculum. The campers walked to organic grocer Frazier Farms, inspected the Buena Creek Restoration Project and rode the Sprinter and the Breeze to the Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center.
Several guest speakers gave presentations. Lori Butler, executive director for the Vista Girls Inc., gave the children insight to a world before environmentalism became a household word.
“I was explaining to them what smog was,” Butler said. “We used to have days when we were kids where you couldn’t go outside because the smog was so thick. All the gas was leaded.”
Another invitee was Catrina Alvarez, a 17-year-old from La Jolla Country Day School, who has been a key player in making her school green. She is also a granddaughter of Vista Councilman Frank Lopez. Alvarez explained to the campers how they could get involved and change their schools and communities.
“I just want to get them all motivated,” Alvarez said excitedly.
Some of the camp activities were truly avant-garde. Taking a page from her mentor, ecologist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy Crilly led the group in a series of meditation exercises. Each child gave their voice to an animal or aspect of nature and then discussed the environment from that new perspective. The campers later made masks to represent their new identities and interacted in a “Council of All Beings.”
“It’s a whole different place in your mind that you can come from, being creative and being open to what else wants to speak through you,” Crilly said.
In the end, camp staffers and children alike called the new program a success.
“You get to do these fun field trips and do fun activities,” Lucas Giordijev, 14, said. “I do care about the future. I don’t want to have to wear a mask every day.”
Twelve-year-old Brian Butler took some convincing, but was eventually won over.
“I thought it was going to be a drag,” he said. “The longer I’ve been here, it’s been getting more fun. I’ve learned a lot of about the environment from the conversations we’ve been having.”
Crilly is hoping to hold more eco camps during spring and summer. For more information, call Girls Inc. at (760) 643-4067.