Kids Camp

Barefoot Adventures Is a Beach Camp With Some Very Different Activities for Children

Creative Writing, Culinary and Meditation Mixed With Paddling
By JON COEN | Jul 05, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

There are few better things than being a kid on Long Beach Island in the summer. There have always been the traditional forms of “camp” – basketball camp at St. Francis Community Center, swim lessons, sailing at the yacht clubs, and arts and crafts at the LBI Foundation of the Arts and Sciences. Today, youngsters also have cool options that take advantage of a barrier island, such as Lifeguard In Training, surf camps, and different eco-programs with Alliance for a Living Ocean.

But thanks to the energetic and creative Jess Johnson of Beach Haven and Moorestown, little Island “grommets” have an opportunity like never before. It’s called Barefoot Adventures, a very non-traditional camp that she runs at Bayview Park in Brant Beach for kids ages 9 to 15. During these three-day camps, kids are enlightened not only by paddleboarding, but also yoga, literature, team building exercises, culinary experiences, creative writing and even meditation.

It’s not exactly camp as you may remember it.

“I wanted to find a way to share my passions with children and adults,” said Johnson. “I have always had a love of physical fitness and the outdoors. Sports have always come so naturally.

“Generally, I’ve always felt most comfortable doing things a little differently. Nature, the ocean, art, music, food, creativity, freedom, learning to follow my heart and share my gifts rather than following the path I was once told I ‘should’ follow. Taking my love of the water, yoga, and LBI and all that it offers and creating an experience for adults and children to be able to discover parts of themselves through these activities led me to create Barefoot Adventures.”

Johnson struggled academically throughout grade and high school. Through active play and moving energy, she was able to channel some of that restless drive and frustration into productive and creative energy.

“Having worked after college as a behavior specialist in the private alternative school sector, I know first hand there are many children and adults that struggle from the same challenges I faced,” she explained.

Johnson, who is a sales rep and brand ambassador for a company called Live Out Loud Everyday (LOLE), has been an avid surfer, paddleboarder, biker, hiker and snowboarder most of her life. She has an impressive resume of continued yoga training, including Little Flower Kids Yoga Mindfulness certification and SUP Yoga.

Four years ago, as she describes it, yoga “found” her.

“I was suffering from an injury from running, and I took a yoga class on a dare from a friend. The class made me slow down. And in the slowing down, it challenged me and offered an opportunity to awaken and uncover pieces of me that I had not seen and did not know existed. I know from my own life and my experiences and daily practice that yoga and meditation have changed my life. It offered me a new perspective and some tools that I have been able to take off of my mat and into my life. In the transformation, one of the most profound takeaways was: ‘How can I use this knowledge with my experiences and passions to help others?’” said Johnson.

She wanted to find a way to pay it forward with service and love. Barefoot Adventures was born in 2015, expanding now to five sessions.

Johnson’s partner in Barefoot Adventures is Hollie Helman, a mother of two with over 24 years of reading and special education experience. She’s currently a full-time elementary reading specialist and certified yoga instructor and initiated a before-school yoga program at the Eleanor Rush Intermediate School in Cinnaminson.

“My students were the ones who pushed me to become certified in yoga,” said Helman. “They wanted to learn more about it. At the end of the school year, I was teaching yoga to 55 other schoolteachers.”

“Her passion and belief in sharing and inspiring children is infectious,” explained Johnson. “Hollie encompasses this innate ability to see possibility where you had not ever imagined, and she brings that fire and passion that she sees in each individual to life with her attitude, passions and love.”

Last Thursday, Johnson and Helman were on the beach with their campers after a 90-minute paddle. They were watching Alliance for a Living Ocean’s seining program, which was also happening at Bayview Park.

“It’s different. It’s everything we all like – health, wellness, mindfulness,” said Sofia Parker of Haddonfield, a counselor. Parker, who just graduated from high school, is already on track to become a certified yoga teacher.

“We definitely didn’t have these options when I was going to camp. We had archery and soccer and other sports, so this is different and it’s really helpful, something these kids will take with them for the rest of their life. Meditation is super important, especially for kids.”

Robin Lee, 14, of Moorestown was in the camp for her first time. She will also do soccer camp this summer.

“This is different because you’re doing so many activities and not just one specific. The counselors are less strict, and it’s a lot more relaxed. Some of the things they are teaching us about like the mandala (spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe) were new to me, and I think that made an impression.”

Paddleboarding has grown exponentially since the first boards arrived on LBI a decade ago. It has become the standard piece of recreational equipment for every house on the water and eclipsed kayaking and canoeing entirely. The only activity to keep pace has been yoga. There are now five yoga studios on the Island, as well as classes offered both indoors and on the beach, with several nearby on the mainland.

There have been a few individuals who have combined academic tutoring with surf lessons on the Island in the past. But to this point, outdoor recreation had never been paired so closely with arts and learning.

The fact that Johnson works on literature and creative writing really sets Barefoot Adventures apart.

“Why not creative writing and literature?” she asks, “Like yoga, meditation, paddling or even reading, we can access tools that empower us both physically, mentally and spiritually, to be the brightest and best possible versions of ourselves. We are only as good as the gifts we share.”

Meditation is something totally out of the box for LBI summer camps, but studies have shown that scheduled meditations have helped kids focus and reduced behavioral issues.

Camps run from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. midweek. This summer’s remaining sessions are July 11-13, July 18-20, July 25-27 and Aug. 1-3. The camps are run in conjunction with South-End Surf N’ Paddle and Yoga Bohemia. For fees and registration, contact Yoga Bohemia at yogabohemia@gmail.com or 609-389-9306.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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