PROSPECT — Five-year-old Steve Cota held on tight as a 4-day-old calf tugged to get the milk from a bottle at Kelly Cronin’s farm-based summer camp last week.
Nearby, Jeremiah Curry, 13, cradled a 3-month-old piglet named Sawyer.
“You can give him love treats,” Currey said.
At Cronin’s camp, animals teach children social skills.
Some of the children are in state Department of Children and Families placements while others have had behavioral issues at home and at school. Some of the campers come from the city and have never been exposed to farm animals, Cronin said.
The five-week program started its first session July 11 and campers are helping to build the camp from the ground up.
With only 10 campers, five paid staff, and five high school volunteers, each camper gets a lot of adult attention, Cronin said.
Although DCF or family members pay for the cost to attend, the camp is nonprofit, Cronin said.
The campers, who range in age from 5 to 14, come from Prospect, Waterbury, and surrounding towns, she said.
Up the hill, campers worked to build a barn classroom and picnic tables.
Mike Crane is teaching an entrepreneurial program, with lessons on repairing a commercial apartment, from patching holes in sheet rock, to painting walls and basic plumbing skills.
Camper Katonia Newsome, 14, was eager to talk about everything she’d learned in the first week of camp, from how to grow vegetables in a greenhouse and sell them at a farm stand to how to turn an oil can into a tailgating grill.
“We don’t make it to sell it,” Newsome said. “We do it with passion and we make everything ourselves.”
Cronin was quick to praise Newsome for her passion. While her grandparents had trouble getting Newsome off the couch at home, she’s unstoppable at camp, Cronin said.
Some of the students rarely hear praise at home or school.
“We beef them up,” Cronin said. “We’ve seen huge, huge impacts with these kids in a very small amount of time.”
Newsome said she learns more by doing than from books, and that’s exactly the point of the hands-on farm camp, Cronin said.
Counselor Lauren Dalvito taught students how to market their vegetables and price for profit, though they are not selling directly, but rather soliciting donations for the produce. At the end of the program, the campers will decide how to use their profits for a fun activity.
Cronin said children are learning practically applied math skills and read for 20 minutes every day, in addition to exploring a woodland stream and walking trails along the Spring Road property.
Dalvito said the camp’s motto is “Come clean and rested and leave dirty and tired.”
Cronin said students are learning skills that will serve them well, no matter what path they take in life. Some of the campers who don’t have many social skills are learning to talk to others, shake hands when they meet someone new and use common courtesy, like opening doors for girls, Cronin said.
Xavier Boles, 6, talked about how he prepares to work in the shop, putting on safety glasses and gloves before sweeping up.
Newsome gave Boles a big hug.
“You’re my little buddy and I don’t want to let go of you,” Newsome told Boles.
That interaction would never have happened two weeks ago, said Boles’ mother, Lia Boles, who is also the camp director.
She said her son has ADHD and is usually very shy, refusing to talk to strangers and clinging to his mother.
“He pretty much is self-sufficient up here, which I like,” Lia Boles said.