Happy Campers: Inaugural CVH Sanctuary-Newtown Community Center Camp A Glimpse Of Things To Come
A partnership between the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary and Newtown Community Center expanded this summer with a brief but successful day camp for children.
Sunday at the Sanctuary events brought the community center (NCC) and the sanctuary (CVH) together earlier this year: Typically conducted outdoors at the CVH property on Old Farm Road when weather permits, a few Sundays at the Sanctuary were held at NCC during the winter months.
CVH Executive Director Jenny Hubbard, whose late daughter is the sanctuary’s namesake, said because the sanctuary still does not have a permanent building, the group uses “borrowed spaces” for programs when needed.
“When we started hosting Sundays at the community center,” Hubbard said recently, “we also started a general conversation about a summer program because our infrastructure is still an issue.”
Those plans came to fruition last week. For four days, children ages 5 to 10 spent four hours at the Simpson Street center, participating in Splash, Explore & More!
On Monday, campers discovered what can be found in local mud. Tuesday, the “Seed Scattering Detective,” explored seeds and “the unexpected places they end up,” according to program notes.
“Life in a Rotten Log” was the plan for Wednesday, teaching campers that fallen trees and rotten logs are homes for “not-so-spooky creatures.” Thursday’s finale was “Bees, Butterflies, Blossoms, and Beetles,” at the sanctuary property.
Each day started at 9 am, when campers — or Explorers, as they were called — spent 90 minutes in the art and science room [one of the community center’s large meeting rooms]. They were introduced to the day’s theme and began exploring those topics through art and science.
Following a snack break, Explorers relocated to one of the building’s art rooms, where they completed crafts based on the day’s theme. Each day concluded with the Splash portion of the camp: swim time in one of the center’s pools, finishing at 1 o’clock.
Jenny Hubbard was thrilled with the response from the young Explorers. Joined by Community Center Director Matt Ariniello and Paint, Draw & More instructors, Newtown residents Kim and Mike Hossler, Hubbard spoke about the program during the group’s snack break on August 12.
“I’m blown away at just how engaged the kids are,” she said. “They’re sponges, and they’re so excited.”
The Hosslers agreed, saying they designed their segment of the program to focus on low-tech tools children can use for the rest of their lives. On the first morning of the camp, each Explorer was given a large slide-lock bag filled with colored pencils, charcoal pencils, a kneaded eraser, tape, a notebook and a journal, and a seed bag.
The journals were filling with illustrations and notes by Wednesday morning, but they would not be filled by the end of the program. That was by design, the educators explained.
“We’ve done projects this week to fill some of those pages,” Mike Hossler said. “There have been freeform ideas given, and some follow-the-direction assignments.”
“There will be lots of room left in the journals,” Kim Hossler added, “so that after tomorrow, we will encourage them to take them home and keep exploring.”
Kim Hossler is an elementary school teacher in Newtown. Her husband, who previously taught science at the elementary school level, currently teachers fifth grade in Wilton. The Hosslers’ combined backgrounds were put to perfect use for the CVH Sanctuary Camp.
“There’s technology available,” Mike said, “but we decided to not use it. There’s a lot of copying by hand and drawing. We are purposely taking a break from technology.”
The adults laughed a little at that comment, coming less than a week after a tropical storm that initially left 80 percent of Newtown without power. By August 10, the first day of the day camp, most of the town was back online. Splash, Explore & More!, however, was always going to be a nonelectronics offering.
“Everything they’re doing here will hopefully encourage them to go outside,” Kim Hossler said.
The seed bags for the Explorers were started with seeds collected by the Hosslers while they hiked around the CVH Sanctuary property.
“They held maple seeds, pods, tulip poplar — things that children and their family can also find,” Mike said.
Kim was thrilled, she said, when one Explorer recognized echinacea seeds in their seed bag.
“I encouraged them to go outside at their home and look for it,” she said.
“We’re trying to connect them with what’s local, not exotic,” Mike added.
Nature As Art Medium
NCC Program Director Jen Cebry led each day’s craft projects. Three young adults, members of the CVH Junior Advisory Committee, served as Guides for Splash, Explore & More!
Snack breaks were taken outdoors when weather permitted. On August 12, the Guides led the Explorers back inside the center to the art room, where Cebry was ready to get going on that morning’s craft project, a nature collage.
Flowers from the Newtown Fruit Trail and leaves found on the Fairfield Hills campus were piled on one table. In front of each Explorer’s chair was a 9- by 12-inch canvas ready to be brought to life.
Cebry told the Explorers they would be creating “essentially decoupage,” using flowers and leaves as their medium. Table by table, the children were invited to select the items they wanted to affix to their canvases.
As they returned to their seats, the room buzzed with giggles and conversations between the Explorers.
While the campers worked, Cebry said she tried to coordinate each day’s craft with the lesson plan.
“We did pottery on Monday,” she said. “We painted pinecones yesterday, which they can also put into their collage today. Tomorrow we’ll be doing butterflies.”
As with the others, Cebry was very pleased with the program.
“It’s been a very good week,” she said. “Even with masks on you can see their smiles. They’re socializing, and learning, and having fun.”
Hubbard plans to expand Splash, Explore & More! in the future, but between this being its inaugural year and the pandemic, an abbreviated version debuted in 2020.
“This year’s program was capped at 15 participants, to ensure social distancing, and all of the requirements to keep the kids, the counselors, and instructors all safe,” Hubbard said. Future programs, she said, will “include longer duration events.”
Splash, Explore & More! offered a glimpse, she said, “of what we will be able to offer as summer camps all summer long.
“This will give us a glimpse of what to expect, and be thoughtful about camp programming — what Newtown wants and what we can provide,” Hubbard added.
Ariniello agreed, saying that while this month’s program was “modified a little,” he and Hubbard are “looking to build in the future.”
He loves the idea, he said, that “this falls right in line with our mission of offering programs to more kids. We’re so happy to be in partnership with CVH.”
Nine-year-old Elliott Linnetz was very happy with his first Paint, Draw & More! experience. He was beaming last week while putting the final touches on his decoupage project.
“I really like the swimming part of it,” he said. “The art projects are cool, and the science is really nature-y.”
When asked about the program overall he nodded and said, “It was more fun than I expected.”