'Harmony' keeps kids off the streets

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

Water balloons, relays and a huge slip-’n-slide were just a few of the activities for the day. This past week, 47 children participated in the Harmony in the Streets program at the Sheriff’s Marion Oaks District office.

In a shared effort between the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches and community partners, low-income children get the opportunity to attend the one-week free summer camp. While staff from Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch put the daily camp activities together, the MCSO takes care of food and organizing the camp.

Camp councilors from Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches run the activities and district offices have deputies on hand to assist with the camp. “We just help out with whatever they need,” said Deputy Juan Ocasio. The deputies working the event this year are school resource officers.

To pay for program the Sheriff’s Office raises the money. Harmony in the Streets costs $4,100 a week, which does not include food or extra activities, said Marion Oaks District Commander Lt. Michelle Wissinger.

To feed lunch to the campers at the Marion Oaks District, restaurants like Arby’s, McDonald’s and Subway donated food. The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches provides two snacks throughout the day.

Themes and Games

At the beginning of the week some of the children may not be real excited about the camp but by the end of the week they don’t want to leave, said Francesca LeGrand, who is a site director with Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches.

Each week the camp moves to different sheriff’s districts and there is a specific theme. The Marion Oaks camp theme was holidays. On Monday the kids celebrated the Fourth of July complete with sparklers and the group made an American flag.

Tuesday it was time for ghosts and goblins. The campers had their faces painted and trick-or-treated. Wednesday was turkey day. And on Thursday it was everybody’s birthday.

The campers sang Happy Birthday to each other and everyone got a cupcake with a candle. After lunch the campers, who are ages 6 to 12, split up into four teams to enjoy water activities. Wet campers rotated to different stations where they participated in relays, ran around cones with water balloons on their heads, and cooled off on a big slip-n-slide

In addition to the games they play at Harmony in the Streets, the campers sing songs and talk about residential lifestyle, which is called “in the streets.” They also do arts and crafts and learn about the environment.