SEVERAL CARROLL families went on safari a few weeks ago and never left downtown Westminster.
The event - sponsored by the Carroll County Family Center, a program of Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc. - was part of a five-day Adventure Camp designed to help families with children under the age of 3 spend time together.
"A big part of our service is the parent-child activity component - helping parents learn how to interact in developmentally appropriate ways with their children and learn how wonderful their kids can be," said Joyce Tierney, the center's director.
So, a few years ago, the program developed Adventure Camp as an opportunity for families to have a special bonding experience.
This year's program, which ran June 19 to 23, was composed of two days of activities within the center and three off-site field trips.
On Tuesday and Thursday, Safari Day and Wild West Day respectively, Family Center staff designed crafts, stories and other activities to support the theme.
On Tuesday, parents and children used binoculars they'd made out of toilet-paper rolls to "hunt" for inflatable animals in the center. Each family was able to take an animal home.
Monday's activity was a field trip to Kids Kingdom, an interactive playground, and Codorus State Park, both outside Hanover, Pa.
Wednesday, the families swam and played miniature golf at Drummer Boy Campground in Gettysburg, Pa.
The grand finale was a trip to Six Flags Amusement Park on Friday.
"A lot of people might say 'That's nice, but why is it special?'" said Tierney.
"A lot of these families don't have the opportunity to do these types of things. Either there are financial constraints, transportation concerns, or they haven't had the opportunity to connect with people in their neighborhoods yet.
"This gives them the opportunity to have a good time not only with other families, but as a single family as well."
In addition, program members take lots of photographs during all five days of activities, providing families with a photo album to spark the memories of what they shared during that week.
"All of these kids will go back to school and be asked the first day to write an essay on 'What I did over summer vacation,'" Tierney said.
She noted that this is one of the few center programs that includes siblings older than 3 years old. "For many of these families, the answer would be, 'I rode my bike up and down the street,' or did something local.
"Now they can say, 'I went camping, I went swimming, I went Wild West Relay Racing.' It provides a really good memory and bonding experience for the families," Tierney noted.
Tierney explained that the center, housed on the top floor of the Social Services building at 10 Distillery Drive in Westminster, is open to any family expecting children or with youngsters from newborns to 3-year-olds.
"We're dedicated to working with young families ... and helping them be self-sufficient," she said. "We want to offer good, solid life experiences for families to help them be as effective and nurturing as they can be."
In addition to the Adventure Camp, programs include activities to keep the youngsters busy while the adults attend enrichment classes ranging from obtaining a GED to health education, parenting or life skills.
Some participants come to the center through referrals from places like social services or the hospital, but many hear about the program through neighbors and friends who have benefited from its services.
"We believe in the importance of the family unit, whatever that family is comprised of, and do our best to support families in Carroll County," Tierney said.
"We're always looking for more families."
Sandymount Recreation Council will offer a Craft Camp for elementary school age children later this month.
A camp for kindergarten through second grade will be held from 10 a.m. to noon July 24 to 28. The cost is $60, including materials.
A camp for third- to fifth-grade children will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 31 to Aug. 4. Cost is $90, including materials. Both camps will be held at Sandymount Elementary School's art room.
Sign up early because space is limited and the camps are popular. Information: 410-857-5071 or 410-876-5241.
Amy L. Miller's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.