Iguana Camp offers low-income families fun place for children to play


The 25 students split into two teams, each wearing neon orange shirts, as they lined up against the walls of the George Young Community Center in Jamesport. With a lone finger pressed against the wall, the kids anxiously waited for the counselors to signal the start.

As the whistle blew, the kids sprinted toward the center, grabbing a ball and eagerly chucking them at one another in a fast-paced game of dodgeball that filled the room with gleeful squeals and screams of “you’re out!”

It was the final day of the Iguana Camp, a week-long camp for low-income members of the Town of Riverhead’s Hispanic community. The camp, which ran from Aug. 17 to Aug. 21, had 26 children ages six to 11 participate this year — the camp’s fourth year.

Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate said that children for the program are selected based on recommendations she receives from community members, such as therapists and school social workers.

“We look for children who really don’t seem to have many resources in their life,” she said. “There are children in the Town of Riverhead where the parents go to work and they are literally home inside a house all day long, every single day. So we look for children, who for various reasons … this would be a great opportunity for them to get away and have a different experience and have a little sense of being out and freer in their lives.”

The children spend time each day at the Jamesport campsite, as well as participate in an extra curricular activity.

Trips range from a visit to the movies, to Splish Splash and Stotzky Park. On Thursday, the kids visited Safari Adventure in Riverhead. On Friday, the campers planned a last-minute trip to the movies after rain forced a day at the Country Fair to be cancelled.

“We go on trips on the bus!” said Bryan Gonzales, 9, of his favorite part of the camp, excitedly adding that Splish Splash was the best trip of the week.

“My favorite part is when we play,” added Kaylee Thomas, 8, adding that Friday’s dodgeball game was her favorite, something 8-year-old Nereida Cortez seconded.

Kaylee also showed off the string bracelets she made that week, explaining that crafting jewelry was another favorite camp activity.

The campers and staff members at the Town of Riverhead Iguana Camp. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Camp Supervisor Rosaleigh Horton described the children as thankful and said they look forward to attending the camp each year. She said it’s a different vibe among the campers compared to the Town of Riverhead Recreation Camp she also works at that runs for six weeks before the Iguana Camp.

“The other campers, they do have a lot of things … so they’re not as appreciative of going to the movies or going to Great Adventure,” she said. “When we take these kids, they’ve never been to Splish Splash until we’ve taken them, they don’t have season passes. It’s just different. It’s a whole different breed of kids. It makes you feel really good.”

In addition to taking the children on daily trips, the camp has a bus that picks campers up near their home and drops them off after the day ends, said Ray Coyne, the recreation department superintendent.

“One of the kids was sick, but the mom doesn’t have a car — she can’t pick her up or drive her home — so we had the bus driver take the girl home,” he said.

Mr. Coyne said the length of the camp depends on how much money the department has as well as the availability of staff. So far, the camp has been held for one or two weeks at a time.

“The camp is rewarding,” Ms. Horton said. “It’s lovely to be able to touch the lives of children who truly and wholeheartedly appreciate a week of fun.”

Photo Caption 1: Children at Iguana Camp participate in Friday’s game of dodgeball (Credit: Nicole Smith).

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