Selena Nugra carefully picked a pepper out of the school garden at HANDS of Wyoming County on Thursday using a technique she learned at FANS Camp.
The 7-year-old day camper was one of 34 children who have been tending to the garden behind the former Mehoopany Elementary School throughout the past five weeks.
For over a decade, HANDS has held FANS, or Focused Activity Nutrition Success, at no cost during the summertime to give children ages 5-12 a greater understanding of healthy living.
“We have had weekly presenters coming in,” explained Brenda Mills, coordinator of FANS Camp and the HANDS Family Resource Center.
Terry McCloskey from Communities That Care taught “Brain and Helmet Safety,” while Lilian Burnett from AmeriHealth presented “Healthy Me, Healthy You.”
Loghan Hirkey, the current Wyoming County Dairy Princess, talked to children about the benefits of drinking milk and Karen Bracey from Penn State Extension touched on healthy snacks.
Cammie Anderson, a drug and alcohol prevention education specialist with the Tunkhannock Area School District, addressed social and emotional development.
Alongside getting active through sports and games, local gardener Tom Dibble taught the children all about caring for a garden, from planting to picking. Some crops produced this summer include lettuce, cherry tomatoes and zucchini.
A digging garden box also includes, beats, turnips, onions, potatoes and carrots.
“The garden has been a huge component for us this year,” said Mills. “They’ve really taken ownership of the garden over this summer.”
Two children who were repulsed by the thought of eating vegetables during the first week of camp have now even expanded their diets.
“We’ve been able to form some really healthy habits and they’ve been willing to try things,” Mills said.
FANS Camp children who return in the fall for preschool programs will be able to continue tending to the school garden.
Much of the late summer’s harvest will be incorporated into the Weinberg Choice Food Pantry at HANDS on Monday, Aug. 19.
HANDS also plans to give produce away through its food pantry and home visits with parents and guardians.
Parents came out on Thursday for a closing event where each child received seed pouches to start a garden at home, and on Friday, the camp wrapped up with a group field trip to Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park.
This summer was the second time HANDS held FANS Camp at its new location in Mehoopany.
“There was a lot of uncertainty with the participation of FANS Camp in a new location, but to our surprise, the attendance didn’t change much,” HANDS Executive Director Cathy Franko said. “There are no income guidelines. There’s a variety of funding sources for the camp.”
Some significant sponsors include the Tunkhannock Rotary, Weinberg Foundation, Wyoming County United Way and Wyoming County Community Health Foundation, which have allowed additions like the garden and a tee-shirt tye dying activity.
“It keeps the learning going year round. It’s important to keep the learning going through the summer and it gives us the opportunity to unplug them,” Franko said. “They’re outside, they’re playing, they’re getting physical, they’re enjoying nature.”
This summer was Nugra’s first time at FANS Camp, which allowed her to try a new activity: yoga, which she loved.
Gage Anderson, an 11-year-old camper who also attended last year, said he learned a lot about gardening and enjoyed games such as floor hockey.
“Last year it was really fun and I had a really good year,” Anderson said when asked why he wanted to return.
A lot of area children become frequent FANS campers.
“Not only do we have families that have children that come to camp year after year and then younger siblings when they’re old enough to join the camp, we have camp counselors that have been here for years,” Franko said.
For more information about HANDS of Wyoming County and its programs, visit hands-wyco.org.