Megan Keech is living the adventures of a Husker kid for the second time — and loving every minute of it.
In her third year working in Campus Recreation’s Husker Kids and Husker Adventures summer day camp, the senior home economics major also took part in the program for three years as an elementary school student.
“When I was a part of the program, the Mabel Lee Fields were all just dirt, not the turf fields we have today,” Keech said. “Those summers in this program were awesome. We played a lot of great games, walked all over campus, and I made friendships that have continued through today.
“It was an amazing experience that made me want to come back and be a counselor if I got the chance.”
Now in its 25th year, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln day camp is designed to turn the lazy days of summer vacation into action-filled adventures.
Open to youth in second to eighth grades, the camp offers enrolled youth an array of age-appropriate recreational experiences built into weekly themes. Shannon Vaccaro, assistant director of sports clubs and youth activities for Campus Recreation, said the summer camp is designed to show youth the benefits of an active lifestyle while providing a safe, supportive and fun environment.
“The best way to describe our program is that it’s like being in PE class all day long,” Vaccaro said. “We offer a variety of activities with the intent of showing our kiddos that recreational activities, learning and fun can go hand in hand.”
The program launched in 1992 as a way to generate revenue for Campus Recreation and increase use of its facilities when fewer students are on campus in the summer. It also doubled as a way to showcase the university and its recreational facilities to children and families enrolled in the Husker Kids program.
In the inaugural year, 72 second through fifth graders enrolled as Husker Kids. In 1996, Campus Recreation expanded the program to include sixth to eighth graders, adding the Youth Recreation Leadership Camp — which was renamed Husker Adventures in 1998.
Combined, more than 6,920 children have participated in the Campus Rec camp. The largest single year was 1998 with 402 campers. In recent years, enrollment has been steady at about 300 annually.
Vaccaro said the Husker Kids/Adventures program adheres to best practice guidelines established by the American Camp Association, a leading national authority in camp development and experience. Staff members — primarily college students, with the majority pursuing degrees in child-related programs at UNL — undergo background checks and complete two weeks of training to prepare for the camp. And, Campus Recreation conducts regular internal audits of the camp to confirm that American Camp Association guidelines are being followed and that the participants are getting a quality experience.
“The training we go through is pretty extensive, but necessary,” Keech said. “The counselors all really care about these kids. The training helps us work together as a team, making sure this camp is a great experience for each of the kids.”
Smartphones and other technology are not allowed in the camp, as screen time is replaced by games, crafts, field trips and lessons on healthy snacking. Vaccaro said camp organizers strive to offer a wide variety of experiences, drawing from a database that offers more than 1,000 different variations on games and activities.
“At any given hour of the day, I can leave my office and go join in a game of dodgeball, four square, or field trips to do fun things like ice skating or go-kart racing,” Vaccaro said. “How many people can say that? Or, that they’ve participated in all the 15 variations of kickball that we offer?”
Keech’s positive experience with Husker Kids was helped in part by Vaccaro, who, as a college student, worked as a camp counselor.
“Shannon was actually my counselor for one summer,” Keech said. “She made it so much fun. I just remember looking up to her and all the other counselors because they were so cool and in charge of everything.
“When I enrolled at UNL, I told my mom that, if this program was still around, that I was going to be a Husker Kid again.”
And, being able to see the program from both sides — first as a participating child and now as a camp employee — is helping Keech formulate a potential career path.
“I loved coming here as a kid and working here has been the best three summers ever,” Keech said. “I kind of have no idea on what I want to do or where I want to go, but seeing where I could go within this sort of a career is definitely something I’m interested in.
“It’s kind of exciting to think about where Husker Kids might take me.”
For more information on Campus Recreation’s Husker Kids/Adventures program, click here or call 402-472-3467.