While most kids aren’t even thinking about summer camp yet, volunteers and staff are working to ensure that Camp Combe in Putnam Valley is ready for the 550 youngsters who attend each June. One of those volunteers is Jay Feliciano, a Walter Panas High School junior and student in the Walkabout Program.
“There’s a lot to be done, especially in light of the recent storm,” said Camp Director Thad Gifford. “Jay has been a delightful addition to our staff. He’s a great kid, a very hard worker and very polite. Having him here has been terrific for us.”
As a Walkabout student, Jay participates in a unique, yearlong program for college-bound high school students offered by Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Walkabout participants earn a full-year of academic credit, spend two weeks backpacking as a group to gain confidence and build a sense of community, spend four weeks in a service learning project, such as the one at Camp Combe, and complete a 10-week career internship.
For Jay, the Camp Combe experience was a continuation of his Walkabout confidence building. He and another worker built a haunted house for the camp’s harvest festival last month. “It was amazing,” Jay said. Since then, he has been working with the camp’s maintenance crew clearing brush and branches on the camp’s 80 wooded acres and constructing a tool box from scratch. “I never thought I could do something like that,” he said.
It is not unusual for Walkabout students to gain confidence, motivation and direction for the future. In fact, many graduates credit the program, which was founded in 1977, with changing their life. Walkabout has been proven effective by the New York State Education Department and has been named one of the top 40 experientially oriented programs in the United States by the National Institute of Education.
More than 92 percent of Walkabout students have gone on to college, with graduates attending schools such as Princeton, Amherst, Ohio Wesleyan, SUNY New Paltz, Bard, Antioch and others.
“Camp Combe is a traditional Y camp,” said Gifford. It is particularly noted for its inclusion program for children with special needs and for providing as much as $200,000 in financial assistance for those who require it. The camp has employed Walkabout graduates in the past and so has a high opinion of the program, he said.
Photo: Jay Feliciano of Yorktown, a Lakeland senior in BOCES’ Walkabout program. Courtesy P/NW BOCES