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Wellness campers get out into nature

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Twelve-year-old Emily Miner of Athens, and her 11-year-old cousin Kelsey Williamson of Atlanta, guided their small paddles through the water as their friends attempted to keep up.

"It's a good experience," Miner said. "You get to learn these new things and meet new people."

On Tuesday, Miner and about a dozen of her new friends took part in a canoeing lesson along Alexander Lake at Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge. The lesson was provided by Brian Bentley, the park's season interpretive ranger.

"It's always fun to see their reaction," Bentley said. "Some kids think it's incredibly easy. But they find out it isn't.

"It's kind of like planting that seed in their minds that everything they can do is here," added the 26-year-old. "I learned how to canoe when I was 12, and I've been doing it ever since."

The lesson was one of several given during this year's Conscious Kids Kingdom Summer Day Camp at Panola Mountain. The four-week day camp, in its first year, was created out of a partnership between Panola Mountain State Park and the Children's Wellness Network, an Ellenwood-based children's health and wellness organization.

Stockbridge resident Ahzjah Simons founded the local organization three years ago, along with partners Carolyn Morris and Jennifer Franklin, as a collaboration of area organizations seeking to improve the overall health and wellness of children.

The Children's Wellness Network, currently pursuing non-profit status, partnered with Panola Mountain several months ago to provide a camp geared towards enhancing children's physical fitness and education of natural environments.

"We let them play freely," Simons said. "We're reconnecting children with themselves, with their creative intelligence, their spirit, their fitness, nutrition, and with nature. It just seemed like nature would be the best backdrop to incubate that."

The camp, from July 7 - Aug. 1, averaged about 15-17 campers daily and is divided into four sessions, a session per week which focused on a specific wellness art.

During week one campers learned creative arts. They experienced various types of music, the art of mask-making, and created journals. Campers learn about living arts during week two, a week of learning self-awareness, self-empowerment, and self-discovery.

In the third week of the summer day camp, campers learned about the culinary arts and how they could prepare healthy foods and organic snacks for themselves. The wilderness students participated in a organic gardening project, growing several medicinal herbs and vegetables as they learned from different chefs how to create healthy snacks and meals from them.

"Today, we're teaching them paddle strokes and tandem canoeing," said Jody Rice, resource manager at Panola Mountain. On Tuesdays, campers take a break from their organized camp activities and enjoy lessons in canoeing as well as play various canoe games along the park's Alexander Lake.

"This doesn't just get them outside, this gives them something recreational," Rice said. "It gets them into nature. They learn that, and they'll appreciate it."

Twelve-year-old camper Zack Miner prefers to climb trees at the park on Thursdays, when campers typically take a break to enjoy the outdoors. "I like spending a lot of time outdoors," said Miner, Emily Miner's twin brother.

This week, the day camp focused in on the cultural and holistic arts, learning different cultural dances and types of music.

"We've got some great comments from parents and children," said Simons, of the Children's Wellness Network. "One parent said that she really felt like we were accomplishing balance with the camp."

The summer day camp concludes Saturday at Panola Mountain with closing ceremonies, between 11 - 2 p.m. at the lake. Organizers are planning to expand the game to include more sessions, possibly eight weeks worth of sessions next summer. The camp is $125 per week, and included scholarship-discounts of $30 per week for camp.

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On the net:

Conscious Kids Club: www.consciouskidsclub.blogspot.com