Youngsters get a kick out of a karate class during the 10th annual Grace Fine Arts Camp at Grace Community Church, Tuesday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Music is in the air this week at Grace Community Church as its Fine Arts Camp celebrates a decade of fostering creativity and self-expression in children and establishing itself as a training ground for future artists.
For years, camp director Mary Hale had dreamed of starting a summer fine arts camp for children to inspire their creativity and confidence. She said the dream became a reality after reading “The Dreamgiver” by Bruce Wilkinson.
“The emphasis of that book was to dream big,” she said.
Since the beginning, Hale’s dream has continued to grow. During the camp’s first year, it had 90 campers and a staff of 11. This year, the camp has 280 campers and a staff of more than 125. Hale said it’s the camp’s biggest year yet.
“It’s been a wonderful evolution,” she said. “We just kept adding staff and children kept coming.”
Word of mouth has helped the camp, with children from all over the city attending; many of which aren’t members of Grace Community Church.
For five days, the camp offers classes in music, as well as crafting skills, to children entering first through seventh grade.
Together, all campers begin the day with a music class. First-and second-graders then rotate into three classes involving music theory, crafting and nutrition.
Third-through seventh-graders are allowed to select three classes from a list of courses that features activities such as cake decorating, sewing, theatre, karate and archery.
“We even have a duct tape crafts class,” Hale said.
Hale teaches the camp’s drum choir, where children learn to read music while practicing with kits that include bass, hi-hat and snare drums. To learn hand positions, campers begin by banging on buckets.
As they play along to songs, Hale helps them keep the beat by clapping with them and also joins them on the floor for rhythm exercises.
“Their little faces — I just love it,” she said. “They just get so excited!”
Ethan Anderson, 11, has attended the camp for three years. In addition to the drum class, he also elected to take a photography class and archery.
“I like coming here because it keeps me busy during the summer and it has such fun activities that it kind of takes your mind off video games and other stuff that aren’t very important,” he said.
Fine Arts Camp is his favorite part of summer, he said, along with Boy Scouts Camp.
Helping with the drum class is former camper Cameron Donahue, 15. Now enrolled at Roswell High School, Donahue had attended the camp every year since it began. He decided to join camp staff to help younger children learn.
“I think it’s really fun, watching little kids try out new stuff,” he said.
Another former camper, Tristan Herring, 13, participated for six years in the camp. He came back as a staff member “because I had such a fun time here, so I wanted to help other people have a good time.”
Hale said the camp sees a lot of former participants return as staffers. Doing so, she said, helps them learn leadership skills and teaches them to become prompt, dependable and conscientious.
“I want to equip children to be leaders,” she said. “I want to work myself out of a job, so when I retire, others can take over.”
Camp fees are $35 to $45 and scholarships are offered. “We don’t say no to anybody,” Hale said. “Some we give full, some we give half. Whatever their needs are, we can help them.”
Camp concludes Friday with performances by first-and second-graders from 12:15-12:45 p.m. The final performance for third-through seventh-graders will begin with an art show at 5:30 p.m., followed by a presentation from the performing classes at 6 p.m. All events will take place at the church, 935 W. Mescalero Road, and are free and open to the public.