Roughing it and loving it.
It's time for the kids to ditch their cell phones and go play.
That is, if you define play as archery, swimming, hiking and building outdoor survival shelters.
Camp Mary Orton's Adventure Academy is a weeklong camp that offers challenges and life lessons for 7- to 14-year-olds in Central Ohio.
"Everything is outside and that's part of the adventure," said Camp Director Marci Ryan. "We're all about experiential learning. We believe that you learn by experiencing it, not by us talking about it."
The Adventure Academy base camps include one optional overnight stay, while the Junior Frontier option for 10- to 14-year-olds has three overnights.
Jolie Begley sent her sons, 12-year-old Patrick and 10-year-old Jack, to Adventure Academy last summer. She was thrilled with it, and so were her kids.
"They got to try things that they had never done before," said Begley, a resident of nearby Worthington. "The activities are so engaging and fun."
Camp Mary Orton is a nonprofit, year-round camp that's owned and operated by the Godman Guild Association. Guild board member Edward Orton Jr. donated the proceeds from his late wife Mary's estate to the camp in 1927, although the camp itself has served children and families for 100 years.
The 167-acre camp is just south of and adjacent to Highbanks Metro Park. Its facilities include a 5,000-square-foot lodge and an indoor activity and conference center, which has an indoor climbing wall and high ropes course. The site can be rented for events, from weddings to corporate meetings.
Adventure Academy is one way that Camp Mary Orton generates revenue to also provide a low-cost camp for inner-city children each summer. The Summer Youth Empowerment Program serves approximately 150 children ages 5 to 15 each summer; it will run for five weeks this year.
Ryan said the SYEP program is limited to children who reside in the Godman Guild service area (primarily the 43201 zip code). Campers pay $2 to register for SYEP, and then pay a camp fee based on income. Ryan said approximately 85 percent of the campers pay just the $2 registration fee for the program, which includes transportation, swimming lessons and other activities.
SYEP and Adventure Academy run concurrently, Ryan said, although the programs are separate.
"The reason we're in this wonderful property that hasn't gone anywhere is because we were deeded the property to provide a place of nature and respite for inner-city children," Ryan said. "Everything else we do is to get revenue, so we can keep the doors open to run that."
Adventure Academy campers come from all over Central Ohio. Many are repeats.
"I have campers that have gone through the program and then became CITs (counselors-in-training for Adventure Academy) and now are counselors," Ryan said. "It's really fun to see them grow up and love it so much to want to come back and help."
Worthington resident Paula Ryan (no relation to Marci) serves on the camp's advisory board. Her 19-year-old son, Joe, is a counselor and past camper; her 15-year-old daughter, Rachael, is a past camper who will be a CIT this summer.
"It's a week that the kids never forget," she said, referring to Adventure Academy.
Rachael Ryan's fondest memories of Camp Mary Orton thus far include getting to know new people and being encouraged to go outside of her comfort zone.
"I really learned to look past people's differences and to look at each other's similarities," she said.
Laura Martin was impressed with Camp Mary Orton's friendly and nurturing staff.
Her 11-year-old daughter, Meredith Shanahan, had never been to an outdoor camp before attending Adventure Academy last summer.
"The things that they challenge the kids to do at such a young age impressed me," said Martin, of Powell. "She's an outgoing child and doesn't mind trying new things, but those were scary things. She felt completely safe there, to get up and do that."
Marci Ryan said the camp's policy is to "challenge by choice."
"We're not going to make them do anything that they don't want to do," she said. "But,we do want them to think about it and to be challenged."