Campers excitedly make crafts and learn to dance. They are educated on social justice and conservation topics. Cultures that campers may not be familiar with are introduced. Welcome to Sense of Wonder Creations’ summer camp, which has provided a fun, educational environment for campers for 31 years.
The Times had planned to cover the final day of the 2021 summer camp on Friday, August 13. Unfortunately, a pianist who was at the camp the day before was diagnosed with COVID.
Pamela Benjamin, founder of Sense of Wonder Creations, made the decision to cancel the last day of camp for the safety of everyone involved. According to Benjamin, the guest pianist was at the camp for only about 30 minutes with a mask on. The pianist thought she had allergies, but got tested just in case. Benjamin said a person needs to be within six feet of a COVID-infected individual for 15 minutes to catch the disease. She received this information from the Tisbury board of health, and she urges the campers and parents to receive tests right away if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID.
Other than this incident, the summer camp was able to provide a space for children to learn art and other subjects. “I’m just so glad we made it so far,” said Benjamin. “The kids made all of their art projects.”
COVID was a hindrance to the camp last year as well. In 2020, Benjamin decided to have the camp with a small group, which included her granddaughter. This year, Benjamin decided in January to have the camp accessible to more children, albeit with a four-week schedule instead of the normal seven weeks,with COVID safety measures in place.
This summer’s campers took part in a variety of activities, learning about different cultures and the arts stemming from them, such as Caribbean songs with Theresa Thomason and East African dancing with Godfrey Muwulya. Additionally, the campers come from all over, and help to introduce their own cultures to new friends. Besides American campers, campers and families came from faraway places, such as South Korea, Ecuador, and Bulgaria, among others.
“You can make a lot of friends there. You get to do crafts and be with the art and get to see all these wonderful people,” said 7-year-old Claire Stryker. She came from Bloomington, Ind., to attend the camp with her 8-year-old brother, Henry.
“The camp is really fun. I made a puppet there. My sister’s puppet was named Chip, and mine was named Ben,” said Henry.
Campers also got acquainted with conservation efforts around the world. Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth from Film Truth Productions talked to the campers about an in-progress documentary about right whales called “Follow the Journey.” In a similar vein, wire sculptor Steve Lohman made a 10-foot-long model of a right whale found swimming near Martha’s Vineyard named Scoop. Made out of chicken wire, a cardboard frame, and papier-mâché, campers and counselors painted the model of Scoop in the final week of camp. Similar animal models have been done by the summer camp before, with animals or plants such as a giraffe, dragonfly, or trumpet flower. These were raffled off, with the proceeds going to organizations supporting animals.
The Stryker kids’ mother, Krista Holmstrom, loved the combination of the arts and societal issues. “Sense of Wonder camp offers a safe yet freeing space for kids to create and learn and laugh. Where else would my son and daughter make their own puppets, discuss racism, learn about endangered whales, and swim in the sea?” said Holmstrom.
“It’s subtle. They’re learning things, but don’t know it because they are having so much fun,” said Benjamin. “Our mission is to educate young people, through the creative arts, on how they can make a difference in the world. Using their own unique talents and skills, we encourage students to embrace diverse cultures, eradicate racism, stand up for human rights, care for the environment and animals, and do local and global community service.”
Despite the difficulties that came in running the camp in the age of COVID, the children did not mind the changes that came. “Every week was full of kids, and they seemed very enthusiastic about everything. That’s the wonderful thing about kids. They don’t hold onto whatever they were dealing with,” said Benjamin.
The experience that Sense of Wonder gives is a positive one in the eyes of parents. “Sense of Wonder magically brings together creativity, friendship, joy, music, art, and appreciation and respect for people and the planet. I can’t think of anything more important for children to experience,” said Guinevere Higgins.
Higgins’s 7-year-old son, Andre Soriano, agreed with his mom about the positive time he had at camp. “Sense of Wonder is really fun. I like singing the songs and doing all the crafts, like making masks. All the kids there I didn’t know before, but then I made some new friends.”
Zoe Vlachos gave praise to the staff for giving such care to campers, alongside the creative outlet it provided. “Our son, Alexander Yang, was a camper there this summer for the first time. Alexander loved the camp immediately, and we were grateful to have him attend a camp that brought with it so much creativity and fun centered around the idea of community. We found that the staff paid tremendous attention to Alexander as an individual, and rapidly understood who he is. Pam’s team of counselors and artists hailing from all over the world creates a special environment with an energy and kindness that is palpable from the minute you meet the team,” said Vlachos. She hopes Alexander will be able to attend next year’s summer camp.
“I loved Camp Sense of Wonder because you get to be really creative and get to do a lot of really fun stuff like making drums, masks, and clay pottery, and do a lot of music and dancing,” said 9-year-old Alexander. “It was more creative, and I learned more than any other camp I have attended.” He still plays the drum he made at camp every day.
Since the summer of 1991, Sense of Wonder Creations has continued to provide a summer program for young children. Art classes aimed at older students are held in the fall and winter. Following the organization’s mission of teaching students about social justice, Sense of Wonder Creations also supports an orphanage in Haiti. Other projects have also been done, such as murals.
“We are so grateful to have all these beautiful children at Camp Sense of Wonder this summer,” said Benjamin. “We feel so very blessed to know them ,and we will always make sure that they have an inspiring, creative, enriching, educational, and fun experience while they are with us.”
Sense of Wonder Creations, 23 Grove Ave., Vineyard Haven. Contact Sense of Wonder Creations by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. or by phone at 508-693-3142. For more information, visit senseofwondercreations.org.