Maria Amaya watched her children run between picnic tables and play with other kids before their last activity of the day — learning how to catch fish in a large net.
Amaya lives in the Allen Apartments complex, in some ways the heart of the Hispanic immigrant community in Annapolis, and has attended weeklong Camp Allen with her four children for the past two years.
Campers learned about oysters, crabs and fish Wednesday in a hands-on field trip to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
"They learn things here," Amaya said in Spanish.
Camp Allen, which began Monday, is free for families living in Allen Apartments, located off Forest Drive. Most of the children, whose parents often work multiple jobs, spend the whole summer in their neighborhood.
The camp gives the children the opportunity to experience what other kids in Annapolis often take for granted, said Arvilla Wubbenhorst, a volunteer from St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. She has been involved at the camp since her son began it in the 1990s.
Five years ago, 25 children enrolled. This year, the number jumped to 52, and organizers had to turn some away.
Judy Hall, a camp volunteer from St. Margaret's, said the program is the closest thing some of the children have to a vacation.
Located on the Rhode River in Edgewater, SERC researchers study coastal ecosystems research and educate visitors on the environment.
Wednesday, several campers played in the water while church volunteers brought fish to shore in a net, something campers learned is called seining. One looked at a counselor and asked about the upcoming beach field trip, mimicking the way the water slows him down when he tries to run.
"These children are shut in their apartments all summer," Wubbenhorst said. "So this is our attempt to help equalize that. I think these inner city kids should be able to enjoy what Maryland has to offer."
The camp is for ages 5 to 12, but parents also are welcome to attend. It encourages Spanish speakers, especially former campers now too old to enroll, to volunteer as counselors for high school service hours.
Counselor Javier Rodriguez, 15, lives in a house next to the Allen Apartments and said it is beneficial for kids to get out and learn things, rather than stay inside and watch TV or play video games.
"We are like a family," he said. "Sometimes the counselors learn from the kids and then sometimes kids learn from the counselors."
Rodriguez came to the United States from El Salvador almost two years ago, he said. His mother told him about the opportunity to be a camp counselor, and he has several younger siblings that are campers.
At the blue crab station, Rodriguez was the last in line to touch the live crab. The volunteer handling the crab warns him not to poke it or he'll get pinched.
Mud crabs at the previous station couldn't pinch. But when one of the children was holding several of them, there was a moment of panic when they overflowed his hand.
Rodriguez told the frightened child what to do in Spanish.
The camp was stationed at the Allen Apartments playground Monday and Tuesday, doing crafts and games. On Thursday and Friday, they will take field trips to Cape St. Claire beach and Cape St. Claire pool.
Wubbenhorst's son, Wesley, went to Honduras while in the Peace Corps and wanted to continue his work in the Hispanic community. He started the camp while he was the associate rector at St. Margaret's, she said.
Volunteer Vicki Mattock Mattock said next year they will plan for more children as word of the camp spread. Volunteers have built trust with the community, she said.
Amaya, whose daughter dragged her away to share something, said her kids agree.
"They enjoy it," she said in Spanish.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun