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Students Join In Camp Program
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A week's worth of fun, games, life lessons and some good bonding time helped make the Escalon Police Department G.R.E.A.T. - Gang Resistance Education And Training - summer camp program a success.

Averaging about 16 kids per day for this inaugural session, camp coordinator Officer Shane Johnson said he was happy that the camp came together. It was put on from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, June 22 through 25, with the primary location being the Escalon Community Center grounds. (See photos, Page A3.)

This past school year was the first time the G.R.E.A.T. program had been offered at El Portal, designed to introduce sixth graders to some strategies to avoid the influence of gangs and violence, drugs and alcohol. The 13-week program touched on a variety of topics, including ways to say 'no' to gangs and drugs, building self-esteem, dealing with peer pressure and more. There were eight classes of sixth graders that went through the program, with most of the nearly 250 students receiving certificates of completion.

Just a handful were able to take advantage of the summer camp, but hopes are for it to be bigger and better next year. The students did get to see numerous demonstrations during the week, from the drug dogs to EMS crews to the bomb squad.

"Officer Johnson did this all by himself," Escalon Police Chief Doug Dunford said of pulling the camp together. "He believes in this program enough to do it more than just during the school year."

Johnson said many local businesses also came through with donations, as lunch and snacks were also offered as part of the camp.

The day usually started with a spirited game of dodge ball, which Johnson said tired the kids out enough to sit still for the lesson. Then there were some team building exercises, the guest demonstrations, some sports activities, lunch and a trip to the nearby Escalon community pool to round out the day.

"Our first lesson was about friends, what you look for in a friend and our second lesson was what's a perfect society," Johnson explained of the topics the campers covered during the week. "We called our group a little society and talked about how that affects your community, if you have dissention."

Other lessons dealt with vandalism and laws and the impact that one person's decision can have on many others when they vandalize something or break the law.

"It also gave a background of the police department, that we're there not to be mean, but to enforce the laws," Johnson said.

Twelve-year-old Francesca Banks said she enjoyed having the time with her friends and the water fights that became a routine.

"I also learned to not do drugs and don't do crime," she said.

Shalene Yarber, 12, agreed, noting that she came to camp because "I thought it would be fun" and Melissa Mullins said her favorite part was "all the people that came" for the various presentations, including the K9 unit.

"We played tug of war with the dogs," she added.

Jorge Salgado, 12, said he learned valuable lessons about staying away from drugs, as well as what to do in certain potentially threatening situations.

"I liked it during the school program, we did a lot of activities, but we do a lot more here," he said.

Johnson was satisfied with the summer program as well.

"I thought it was really good, everyone learned a lot and had a lot of fun," he said. "They came back every day."