Tulare County G.R.E.A.T. Summer Camp
A critical element of the G.R.E.A.T. Program in Tulare County is the four-week Tulare County G.R.E.A.T. Summer Camp. For the third consecutive year, the Tulare County Probation Department and Community Services and Employment Training (CSET) Inc., a large community-based organization active throughout Tulare County, partnered to host this mountain camping experience for up to100 children who completed the G.R.E.A.T. Program during the preceding school year. The five-day camp is repeated over a four-week period for up to 25 students per week at no cost to their parents. The G.R.E.A.T. Summer Camp is located near Quaking Aspen in the beautiful Sequoia National Forest and is approximately a 2½-hour drive from Visalia. Most of the children who go to G.R.E.A.T. Summer Camp are from small, poor, rural communities and have never camped or even been to the mountains.
Officers Gomez and Fernandez worked with CSET Camp Directors Lori Ferguson and Daniel Cisneros to provide a memorable and fun-filled experience for the G.R.E.A.T. students. The student lessons for the 2009 camp program included encouraging the students to keep a daily journal to record their thoughts and providing instruction in cultural awareness, conflict resolution, team building, goal setting, leadership, conservation, and recycling. G.R.E.A.T. lessons were reinforced through a variety of daily activities, including nature hikes, stargazing and astronomy, and forestry and fire safety. The fundamentals of camping included tent setup and breakdown, packing gear properly, wilderness and wildlife awareness, and horseback riding.
Between lessons, there was plenty of time for fun and meeting and making friends with other G.R.E.A.T. kids. Free-time activities included volleyball, basketball, board games, baseball, and water activities. The nightly campfire, with traditional s’mores and stories, included discussions about what they had learned that day as well as their daily journal entries and thoughts. At the end of each week, the children wrote a letter to their parents as a way of sharing their camping experience with them. The students also received a Certificate of Participation and group photos to capture and cherish newfound friends and their summer camping experience. By the end of each week, the children did not want to leave the G.R.E.A.T. Summer Camp. For many, this was the highlight of their summer and will remain a fond memory for years to come.
The 2009 G.R.E.A.T. Summer Camp was truly another fantastic experience for the students and staff. A special thank-you goes to the U.S. Department of Forestry/CAL FIRE and their staff (especially Ruth Hauer), as well as CSET; the participating CSET Junior Leadership Program students; Golden Trout Pack Station; the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, G.R.E.A.T. Program; and all the people who helped make this event possible.
The TulareCounty Probation Department; Probation Officer Janet Honadle; and the two G.R.E.A.T. Probation Officers, Gene Fernandez and Lupe Gomez, are committed to helping keep youth out of gangs and assisting them in focusing and reaching their goals. The G.R.E.A.T. Summer Camp is one example of that commitment. We are fortunate and grateful to have been able to provide this camp, completely free of cost, to the participating students and their families and hope that we can continue to do so.
Tulare County’s G.R.E.A.T. Program has been recognized as a valuable program by both the Tulare County Board of Supervisors and the Tulare County Grand Jury.