Community Connections

Camp Iris Way: new leaders, same commitment to neighborhood fun

Colorful banners and flags section off a portion of the street on Iris Way, where 50 students, ages elementary through high school, are playing together on the street. Some scribble with chalk on the sidewalk, others challenge their friends to tetherball, four square, or wiffleball, and some play with oobleck (AKA “slime”) or frisbees. This is a yearly tradition known as Camp Iris Way, which occurs the week after Palo Alto schools let out for the summer.

New leaders continue the tradition of free range fun

Palo Alto Pulse previously wrote about the camp back in 2015, when it was still being run by its founders, Jennifer Antonow and Diana Nemet. Last year Jennifer and Diana turned over leadership of the camp to two new parents: Emily Almaer and Susan Wood. For 2017, Emily and Susan spearheaded all the activities in collaboration with the Camp Iris Way middle and high school counselors, and other neighborhood parents.

From slime to scooter cars, Camp Iris Way has something for everyone

Each day’s schedule begins with an introduction to camp and singing the camp song. Then, campers break into five small teams for a warmup, art project, team activity, and snack. These activities include everything from ‘tried and true’ games such as ‘duck, duck, goose,’ or ‘Sharks and Minnows’ to chalk murals, water sports and gardening.

Even a day of day of unexpected rain did not dampen the fun at Camp Iris Way

There is also a lot of down-time for individual or small-group activities including ping-pong, matchbox cars, friendship bracelets, or scooter races. The day ends with a camp-wide group activity and camp closing with the camp song. And one thing that has never changed about Camp Iris Way: Otter Pops are still part of every day.

Adults and teens plan together to make the camp a success

Camp Iris Way is truly a collaborative project, explained co-director Susan Wood. “There are essentially three parts to managing Camp Iris Way; planning with other adults, meeting with counselors and enjoying the week of camp,” Susan said. “Each part was simply delightful. Getting to know my neighbors better (there’s some real jewels on my street I never really appreciated.) Watching the counselors take charge and design the days’ activities -their management skills are astonishing.  Our counselors have taken on so many of the camp duties, I suspect they are fully capable of running the camp on their own.”

Neighbors gather to catch out the fun at Camp Iris Way

Connecting neighbors and forming bonds across generations

Camp Iris Way represents something different to each member of the community. For campers, it is a fun way to reconnect with old friends and spend time with neighbors of a different grade level. For the young teens and counselors, it is a wonderful way to earn community service hours or money, and to spend time with their friends. Parents and other adults love the atmosphere and sometimes stop by to watch the children playing—often bringing their dogs along. For everyone, Camp Iris Way is a time to reconvene with neighbors and unwind after a busy year.

Teens learn enduring leadership skills

“Through Camp Iris Way, I’ve gotten to know all of my neighbors better and meet new ones. It’s also been a great way for me to develop and use leadership skills,” said teen counselor Alyssa Leong. “This year through Camp Iris Way, I helped create the camp video with a neighbor who is professional artist, which was a great experience. Camp Iris Way is something I look forward to every year and it’s one of my favorite parts of the community we have here.”

“With two camp graduates and one current counselor, I can safely say that Camp Iris Way has a lasting impact on children,” Wood said. “It’s helped them develop skills working with adults, cooperate with their peers and be patient with younger children. Ultimately, it’s taught them how a simple idea can grow into a phenomenon with lasting impact.”
Seeding a love of community for this generation and the next

The leaders of Camp Iris Way hope their example will inspire others to instill something similar in  their own neighborhoods. “The actual week of camp is the best week ever.  There’re so many smiles and laughs that it makes me want to do it all summer long,” Wood added. “I can see our kids leading dozens of Camp Iris Ways for the next generation.”

All photos courtesy of Camp Iris way

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About the author

Soumya Jhaveri