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Making safety fun

Campers first learn about water and boat safety before taking to the water for some swimming and canoeing.

Parents and teachers often try to get across the message of safety to children, but where's the fun in that?

But throw in some police officers, firefighters and outdoor activities, and now you're talking. That was the theme during the Woodbury Parks and Recreation Department-sponsored Youth Safety Camp.

The safety camp was held July 26 and July 27 at Carver Lake Park. A total of 130 campers, grades 3 through 5, participated in the program.

During the two-day camp, counselors -- made up of police officers, firefighters and recreation specialists -- taught campers a variety of different safety tips, but in a fun, interactive way.

"It's a really great partnership between the departments," recreation specialist Michelle Okada said of the camp, now in its 18th year. "That's what really makes it work."

Campers were divided up into smaller groups and paired with one firefighter, one police officer and two parks staff members.

"It's two days just packed with fun, but they're still learning, and that's the draw for the parents," Okada said. "We create that environment where they're soaking in the information without realizing it -- that's what really makes a difference."

The different safety areas that were addressed included bike and traffic safety, by riding bikes; fire safety, by interacting with a smoke house; water safety, by swimming in the lake; boat safety, by canoeing; eye safety, bullying, through role playing; personal safety, through martial arts demonstrations; and poison safety.

"What we try to do is rotate the lessons out every year," Okada said.

However, some of the lessons are also repeated every year, such as bike safety, fire safety and water safety, Okada said.

"Re-enforcing, reiterating, those safety messages is always good," she said. "We do hope they stick the first time though."

Okada said it's difficult to pinpoint which activity, or lesson, the campers get the most out of.

"It really depends on the kid," she said. "Some kids love the smoke house and the mystique of the smoke house, but other kids love the canoeing because they've never been out canoeing before and this is their opportunity to put on a life preserver and get in a wooden boat and go around the lake."

Making public safety connections

For the third year in a row, Woodbury police officer Joel Krenzel participated as a counselor for Youth Safety Camp.

Krenzel said he decided to start participating in Youth Safety Camp because of the opportunity to interact with kids.

"I love the kids and being able to interact with them," he said. "It's fun, it's great to be out here with the kids."

Krenzel is going on his 33rd year with the Woodbury Public Safety Department.

During the week, some of the most important lessons the campers learned include how to deal with bullies and fire safety, Krenz"We do find that the kids actually do go home and talk to their parents about what they learned each day," he said. "The kids are learning and that's very important."

Okada and Krenzel said the biggest benefit of Youth Safety Camp, aside from the safety tips, is allowing the campers to make personal connections with firefighters and police officers.

"What we've always strived to do is that through the positive interactions that the campers have with the public safety staff, that if there is an emergency, they know that police officers and fire fighters are good safe people who are there to help them," Okada said.

And with Night to Unite occurring Tuesday -- after the Woodbury Bulletin went to press -- it seems like the perfect opportunity to get to know the local public safety staff, Krenzel said.

"It eases that possible nervousness," he said. "They definitely see us as more approachable.

"The kids and the public safety are both kind of in the spirit of getting together."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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