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Summer Camp

06/06/07 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) Vermont offers a great variety of summer camp experiences, and today commentator Ron Krupp tells about one summer camp that's serving a largely invisible sector of the Vermont community.

(KRUPP) One of the biggest changes on Vermont's dairy farms in the last five years is the use of Mexican farm labor. State officials say one-third of Vermont's dairy farms employ about two thousand Mexican migrants. The main reason immigrant help is needed is that wages are low due to low milk prices.

But while sixty percent of the dairy farm laborers in Vermont are from Mexico, the other forty percent are local Vermont farm workers and their families. You don't hear much about them. They're like a hidden population, who've been working on Vermont dairy farms for years - sometimes generations. Many of these migrant farm families move from one farm to another looking for better opportunities. Their children are among the neediest and least visible of Vermont's population groups. Because of their transience and isolation, it's easy for the students of farm families to fall out of step both academically and socially.

This is where the Vermont Migrant Education Program comes in. It provides support services to children (age 21 and under) of families that relocate in order to obtain seasonal or temporary employment in agriculture. Their free services provide books, tutoring, homework support, summer programs, and referrals to local resources. The program was started in the 1960s and is supported by the federal government under the direction of the University of Vermont Extension Service and the Vermont Department of Education.

Some of the children involved with the Migrant Education Program attend Camp Exclamation Point, a Vermont non-profit charitable organization that provides a week of free residential summer camp each year to over one hundred children on Lake Fairlee. The camp was founded in 1991 and is supported by grants, donations and many volunteers.

Camp Exclamation Point is a unique experience for the children of migrant Vermont farm workers who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience summer camp. It's an opportunity to gain friends and learn new skills that build confidence. The camp offers leadership training for teen-aged youth who once were young campers themselves.

I volunteered in the early 1990s for two summers, honing my skills as a water instructor and leading workshops on medicinal herbs with Kathy Johnson of Island Pond. The day began at seven every morning with a medley of music from the wake-up band. Some campers even jumped in the lake for a Polar Bear Swim. The mornings and afternoons were filled with workshops and outdoor activities, sports, arts and crafts, and nature walks. And, of course, campfires, story telling, treasure hunts, a carnival and an end of the week celebration. I found the camp to be a meaningful way to spend an August vacation with lots of joyful singing. Never mind the bug bites!

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.

For information:Camp Exclamation Point
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