La Cañada summer camps: Unplug, unwind and enroll

Freddie Ireland can't wait for school to end and for summer to officially start.

For the 9-year-old La Crescenta resident, school's ending means the beginning of Camp Runamuk — a day camp for kids ages 5 to 8 with weekly themes — at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, where his days will be filled with play, crafts and fun activities. The first theme starts Monday, with pirates and mermaids.

The camp is also where Freddie goes to reconnect with friends, says mom Katy Ireland. One of them, Morgan, has become a best bud since Freddie graduated from preschool and started attending Camp Runamuk.

"Freddie and Morgan look forward to it all year," says Katy Ireland, whose 6-year-old daughter, Darcy, also attends. "They get to do a bit of everything. It's good, old-fashioned fun."

Day camp is just one of several local summer programs CCLCF is rolling out now that school has ended. A Sports Blitz Camp entertains young athletes ages 5 to 8, and afternoon classes aim to teach a spate of skills — from drama and dance to ceramics and skateboarding — to youths and teens all the way through August.

"We tend to shy away from anything that looks like babysitting," says CCLCF Executive Director Deb Jordan, who planned this summer's offerings with Program Director Amanda Balcazar. "We want them to have a good time and make new friends; it's about socializing."

Jordan says she made friends in church camp in seventh-grade decades ago with whom she is still close.

Runamuk campers can expect treasure hunts and cannonball (water balloon) tosses as well as Olympics-inspired events and reptile and marine animal sessions, depending on the week's theme. Crafts, cooking and science-related projects leave kids delightfully messy and with armfuls of take-home creations, says Balcazar, who has fond memories of attending Camp Odyssey in North Hollywood as a child, where she met her current bestie, Breanna, at age 5.

"Camp was probably the best experience of my life," she recalls. "Now, I feel like I'm paying it forward."

Summertime is also busy time for folks at YMCA of the Foothills, who lead half- and full-day camps for kids from preschool through high school, weekend and weeklong camping trips and themed camps. This year, the Y is hosting special summer events, including a June 18 attempt to break the world's record for most kids participating in a swim lesson at once and its 2nd Annual Family Summer BBQ in July.

One important aspect of local summer programming is getting kids unplugged from various electronic devices and gadgets and plugged into nature, physical activity and widening their social circles beyond school, according to Natalie Abou-Chakra, director of camps at the Y.

"While summer should be a time of exploration, youth are sometimes less involved in activities that stimulate their mind and body," Abou-Chakra said in a release. "When at a Y camp, kids have the opportunity to get outdoors and learn about nature, take on new responsibilities, gain independence and develop essential social skills and new relationships."

To help foster engagement in nature and friendships, the Community Center asks that no electronic devices or toys be brought to camp, Jordan says. This is something parents like Ireland particularly appreciate.

"There are so many camps out there with high-tech things going on. But (Runamuk) is what a camp should be — outdoor and having fun with your friends," she says. "It's fun for them and a bit of a break for me. It's a win-win."

To learn more about the Community Center's summer day camps and lessons for youth, teens and adults, visit or call (818) 790-4353. For more information on the YMCA's summer programs, including schedules and registration, visit or call (818) 790-0123.

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