The EPIC Adventures Summer Program offered by the Town of Hanna is aimed at children ages 5 – 12. It is run out of Centennial Place from 9am to 4pm daily throughout the summer. Hanna’s Community Services Programmer, Angela McGillion, is in charge of the program. She is assisted by Megan Hein, the Program Manager. It’s basically a summer camp program that keeps kids occupied during regular work hours for those parents holding down jobs or simply those who want to keep their kids busy rather than spending the entire summer looking at a flatscreen or electronic device.
I was hired to drive a school bus full of kids to Prairie Oasis for an outing yesterday, which allowed me a firsthand look at this summer camp program. It is amazingly well run with no detail overlooked, right down to the safest place to park the bus so the kids weren’t exposed to traffic. Speaking of safety, not only were all the adults and youth leaders trained in first aid, the group even brought along its own lifeguard to supervise kids on the beach.
In addition to the adult employees of the program, there was a healthy compliment of Youth Leaders as well. These youth are all part of the Leaders In Training (LIT) program offered by the town in conjunction with J.C. Charyk Hanna School. These teens who are aged 14 and up commit to putting in 120 volunteer hours over the summer, receive first aid training, and HIGH FIVE’s ‘Principles of Healthy Child Development ‘(PHCD) training. The HIGH FIVE program is Canada’s gold standard when it comes to safe children’s programming. Those who complete the LIT program earn high school credits for the hours they’ve volunteered.
Upon disembarking, everyone headed to the nearby playground to burn off some energy from having to sit still on a bus for half an hour. The Youth Leaders were everywhere making sure kids didn’t have a wreck on the playground equipment while managing not to make it too obvious that they were being helpful. There were certainly no complaints about getting ‘rocket boosts’ from the kids playing on the swings.
Next, everyone was herded to a spot by the beach for snacks and juice boxes. All of the kids got a good coating of sunscreen whether they wanted it or not. Once the sun protection was applied, it was time for the scavenger hunt.
The hunt took about three quarters of an hour and was split into several groups, each with their own Leader (or two). I understand that the hardest items to locate were a pine cone and a clam shell. You’ll find the occasional clam at Prairie Oasis, but you really have to look for them. I think a couple of the groups settled for just finding a piece of shell. The groups also had to take pictures at certain locations — like the lighthouse — to prove they had found them.
Those kids who finished the hunt alternately played at the playground or with provided sand toys on the beach, all under the watch of the program leaders. They were being kept out of the water until after lunch as it generally isn’t warm enough until then, and it was important to keep the kids from getting sunburned. There were several umbrellas scattered along the beach to provide temporary shade as well, and you would occasionally see a small person taking a break under one.
Everyone walked up to the concession area for lunch and used the tables there, which were nice and shady between the umbrellas and the large trees planted around the building. The majority of the kids brought their own mostly healthy lunches — I only saw one buying his at the concession. Once lunch was done, all garbage was disposed of, and to such an extent that the ever present seagulls voiced their displeasure.
And then it was swimming time. Leaders took the kids to the change rooms in groups and then took them to the beach. Life jackets were provided for those who needed them. Lots of digging and sand castle building ensued. One little blonde girl who looked to be entering grade three spent a good hour carefully sculpting a sand castle. Once she was done, she examined it critically and then took great joy in stomping it flat. She then spent another hour building a new one just like it, with the occasional break for swimming and shouting warnings at any boy who walked too near her creation.
The Youth Leaders were out in the water with the kids playing games with them. Brendan, a rather large lad going into grade ten, is tall enough that he has a possible future as a WWE wrestler. His ability to toss small children a good ten feet or more guaranteed that he had at least five of them hanging off him at all times, all screaming loudly and generally doing their best to drown him. Every so often you’d hear Brendan roar and a small person would go flying into the water. Thirty seconds later the same kid would be back begging to get tossed again. They worked him so hard I’m amazed he didn’t sleep on the bus on the way home. Instead, he had all of the little people around him playing counting games. He did a fantastic job with the kids all day and they loved him to bits.
All of the kids got attention from the Youth Leaders, even those who tended to be loners. They helped with swimming, building sandcastles, and digging moats and trenches on the beach. No one was left feeling left out. The youngest child, a girl who looked to have just turned 5, had continual one-on-one time with leaders in the water and on the beach. The few children with minor boo-boos had scrapes dealt with promptly. There was nothing a bandaid, a juice box, and a quick hug couldn’t fix. The few tears I saw dried up pretty quickly.
Some of the kids powered down by around 1:30, and the sleepiest were all propped around Angela for naps. I think at one point she had three kids napping on her. She’s sort of an InstaMom, one that pretty much any kid is happy to adopt in place of their regular parent. Angela certainly didn’t seem to mind all of the extra cuddles.
The short people were herded back to the area by the picnic table around 2:15 for a snack and another juice box. Once again the Youth Leaders were everywhere reapplying sunscreen, especially to those who were starting to look a bit pink.
A few of the die-hards headed back to swim, with a larger contingent deciding to make more use of the playground. Each group had Youth Leaders in tow. Brendan was put back into service again, this time providing rocket boosts for kids on the swings.
Everyone was back on the bus by 3pm for the trip home. As is usual for all things Hanna, the program leaders made sure that everything was picked up to the extent that the seagulls went hungry. Again. If the U.S. Marine motto is no man left behind, I’m sure the Town of Hanna’s motto is, no trash left behind. It’s wonderfully rare to see any place left crudded up with garbage after a town activity.
We made a quick stop at Cactus Corner on the way back for slushies, which had been donated to Epic Adventures once again! Several leaders dashed off the bus to get the drinks so that the kids wouldn’t have to cross a busy parking lot — definitely unsafe — so that didn’t happen. Everyone got a slushie including the bus driver! The bus rolled back in to Centennial Place just before 4pm and disbanded a bunch of tired and happy kids.
Speaking as the parent of an almost 14 year old kid, I found every aspect of the program that I saw to be amazingly well run. All of the Youth Leaders — Brendan Palmer, Caitlyn Keith, Maddie LaClaire, Brenna McGillion, and LIT Kurt Fecho — did a fantastic job. Not one of them needed any correction from the adults present. Each and every participating child was well looked after, with none given an opportunity to get into trouble or feel left out. Or to get injured — there was always a leader hovering nearby whenever there was a slight possibility of injury, even from climbing up the fireman pole at the playground instead of sliding down it. You could tell that all of the kids were engaged and flat out having a blast.
I would highly recommend the EPIC Adventures Summer Program to any local parent looking to keep their kid busy, happy, and safe during work hours this summer. While my own daughter is too old to be a participant in the program, I will definitely be hinting to her that she should look into applying for the Leader In Training program next year when she is 14. Even those of us with older kids don’t want them staring at a screen all summer.
I took just shy of a thousand photos during the course of the day. Of those, 261 were good enough to share with the program managers, the Town Office, and parents (who are receiving access to all of the images that turned out). Here is a small selection from the day. Many thanks to Angela McGillion for permission to take pictures of and to write about the outing.