Inexpensive Fun After School at Bay Oaks

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Club Rec & Fun Day

Club Med, short for Club Mediterranee, is an internationally-recognized vacation resort program well-known for its all-inclusive resorts. On Fort Myers Beach, however, the Bay Oaks Recreational Center offers “Club Rec,” where one all-inclusive and extraordinarily reasonable price provides island children with a safe, fun and recreational outlet after every school day!

“Lee County Parks & Recreation actually began Club Rec back when they still operated Bay Oaks,” explained Recreation Campus Manager Sarah Mayher. “While the Town of Fort Myers Beach continued the program, we’ve adapted it many times since, to not only meet the needs of the community’s children, but to include educational elements like Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM), so it is much different than a decade ago. I mention that timeframe because October 1 of this week marked the ten-year anniversary of the Town receiving Bay Oaks from Lee County!”

No Child Left Behind

Teams form for the big soccer match!

Between 25 and 30 children attend Club Rec weekly, all students at the adjacent Beach Elementary School. “Our Staff walks over each afternoon when school ends at 2:05 p.m.,” Sarah stated. “Teachers bring kids out by class, and we go over the checklist to ensure we account for every single child, then everyone walks together back to Bay Oaks, where we split them into two age groups – Kindergarten to 2nd Grade and 3rd through 5th Grade. One group plays games or other activities, while the other begins their homework, with staff helping with any questions or problems.”

After 40 minutes, the groups switch between homework and fun. “There is then a snack,” continued Sarah, “and we follow that with games like soccer or baseball, crafts, board games, puzzles, activities or a trip to the Fort Myers Beach Community Pool next door, with younger kids going on Wednesdays and the older group on Fridays. When parents pick them up at 6 p.m., they are so happy because the kids have a lot of their homework complete, have had a snack, and are pretty worn out from playing.”

Club Rec costs just $100-per-child-per-semester for Fort Myers Beach residents and $135 for non-residents, “so for $200 for the entire year, your children are in our safe and outstanding afterschool program,” Sarah related. “Many people are surprised at how inexpensive this is, but most parents of Beach Elementary School children are not multi-millionaires but are the waiters, waitresses, bartenders and service personnel who keep the island economy running. We especially thank the Fort Myers Beach Lions and Kiwanis Clubs who provide scholarships to any families who need financial assistance for Club Rec, as they ensure that not one single child is left behind due to finances. I am an ‘Island Kid’ myself who is a ‘Club Rec’ alumnus and I recall several of my friends who needed that help, so I can personally relate to that. We don’t want any child to go home alone after school, so it is great that so many people on this island gladly help!”

Fun Day!

Counselor Sarah gets ready to drop the ball for the Fun Day soccer game. Photos by Gary Mooney.

While Club Rec is held each weekday, Bay Oaks offers an extended program when there is no school at Beach Elementary, like on Monday, September 30, when Lee County Schools closed for Rosh Hashanah. “On those days,” said Sarah, “we host ‘Fun Day!’ The kids are with us from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. They bring their own lunches, but we provide the snack and beverage, and on hot days like today, that includes a lot of water to keep them hydrated, as we do many things, like going on short field trips or kayaking or to the pool, so that is important, not only for them but the counselors as well.”

Bay Oaks caps Fun Day registration at 20 students, “for safety as well as to provide the best possible program,” Sarah offered. On the Fun Day this reporter attended, there are just 9 children. “I tried for years now to predict how many kids we will have on any given ‘Fun Day,’ but I gave up,” she laughed! “It changes all the time, and I can’t come up with any rhyme-or-reason! Mondays, however, tend to be light, and I think that is because parents rearrange their schedules to enjoy the three-day weekend with their children.”

Of the nine kids, seven are age 6 or younger, while the other two are 8 and 9 years old. “For this small a group, it makes no sense to divide them by age,” related Sarah, “so we give the two older kids extra responsibilities, calling them Junior Counselors-In-Training, where they do things like being the goalies in the sports games and helping us to set up and put things away, and they really enjoy that.”

The next Fun Day is Monday, October 14, when Beach Elementary School closes for Columbus Day and a Teacher Work Day. The Fun Day fee is just $15-per-child, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., including snack and beverage. “When we open the door at 7:29 a.m., there are already parents with children waiting,” smiled Sarah! “It is cool that many times, the kids ask their parents not to pick them up until 6 p.m., as they look forward to every single thing we will do, so that makes all of us on staff feel good. To ensure that the kids have a fun and safe time, Social Senior Program Coordinator Danielle Felton, Youth & Teen Program Coordinator Sarah Ashley Lisenko, and I rotate in-&-out all day to keep the kids motivated and ourselves fresh.”

Kids Say The Darndest Things

Aria, age 6, most loves the games she plays at Club Rec. “My favorite is ‘Red Rover’ – it is fun and I am good at it!” Mavric is also 6 and he enjoys free time, “because we get to play whatever we want!” For Ava, age 6 as well, “it is when we play games, especially ‘Buffalo Breaks.’ That is like dodgeball, only with more rules. When the ball hits you, you have to sit out until the counselor yells, ‘Buffalo Break,’ then you run back in and play some more!” “Buffalo Break” is also the favorite of Scarlett, another 6-year-old. “You get to run and exercise, and can catch the ball to stay in the game. It is so much fun!” Lexi, the youngest at age 5, likes “Buffalo Break” as well because “you get to throw the ball at other people, but not to hurt them.”

For Arianna, age 9, it is all about going to the Community Pool. “The best part is going down the slide, then swimming under water!” Elianna, who is 6, most enjoys “when we play games, and my favorite is ‘Red Rover,’ because you can ask questions.” Landon, age 6, is an advocate of “Freeze Tag” for the best possible reason – “because I like it!” For 8-year-old KJ, Dodge Ball rules “because I am really good at it!” The ever-smiling Counselor Danielle said, “I just absolutely love all the kids, as they are all so much fun, but I must be honest and say that when I go home, I am exhausted, as they keep me on my toes, but it is the best-possible kind of exhausted!”

To initially register kids for either Club Rec or Fun Days, you must come to Bay Oaks in person to fill out the paperwork and pay in advance, with the Recreational Center open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the building closed Sundays. “After you do this once,” Sarah explained, “you can pay over the telephone with a credit card. We soon will have this feature online, to make it as convenient as possible. If you have questions, please contact me via email at sarah@fmbgov.com, by calling Town Hall at 239-765-0202, extension #1802 or Bay Oaks at 239-765-4222; if I am not the person who directly answers, just ask for me. Remember that Christmas Break is right around the corner and we do a weeklong camp when school is on break, so call for details about that.”

As a former Club Rec kid herself, Sarah fondly remembered “all the games we played, and even though my friends and I are now in our 30s, we still laugh over who were the tennis-baseball champions 20 years ago! So many of my Club Rec counselors still live on the island and I see them all over Town and we still enjoy great relationships. Those happy memories of people who made such a positive difference in my life is a big reason why I do this professionally. It also is a huge contributing factor in the attitude I have with our current kids, as I know first-hand how a caring counselor can positively influence their lives, now and in the future. It is not just me who feels this way, but our entire staff, as we are a very close group who take tender loving care of our kids!”