Lilburn camp emphasizes art of sleuthing

LILBURN - Bethany Wheeler, 9, of Snellville would love to tell you the song of the day at Lilburn Girl Scout Day Camp, but it's a secret.

Secrets and mysteries abound in Lilburn City Park this week, along with hundreds of campers who have turned out to make crafts and new friends at this year's Lilburn Girl Scout Day Camp, which began Monday. This year's theme, "It's a Mystery ... Hot on the Trail," has kept campers on their toes with activities that exercise their detective skills.

Wheeler said groups of girls earn stickers for singing songs throughout the day, but they earn two stickers if they sing the day's secret song. On Friday, when the camp comes to an end, the group with the most stickers will receive two pounds of candy.

"Girls were wearing crowns today as clues," Wheeler said with a grin, "Today's song was 'Princess Pat.'"

The day camp, which will mark its 25th anniversary next year, aims to give girls a chance to experience new activities and enjoy the outdoors. Girls are divided into groups determined by their age and visit different activity stations each day to explore everything from knitting to lifting fingerprints.

Each group of campers is under the direction of two adults and two older girls called Program Assistant Leaders, many of whom were once campers themselves. Girls who want to be assistant leaders are required to train during one summer camp before they can apply the following summer.

Haley Bollinger, 12, of Lilburn has been coming to camp for eight years, but this is her first year as a P.A.L.

"I want to be a pediatrician someday," said Bollinger, who hopes her leadership experience at camp will help her in the future.

Bollinger has been working for a year to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award, which is based on leadership experience and community service. Many assistant leaders are earning volunteer hours toward their Gold or Silver awards by helping at day camp.

Junior Girl Scout Samantha Hipe is spending her fourth summer at camp this year. The 9-year-old from Snellville admitted that arts and crafts are her favorite camp activities as she proudly held up the knitting she has been working on this week.

"When I turn 11, I want to be a P.A.L. in training because I'll get to help the younger girls make crafts," Hipe said.

Campers are learning about more than yarn and glitter, though; this year's mystery theme introduces them to a new forensic science station. The station, where girls learn to lift fingerprints, was the idea of Anna Brown, 20, of Lilburn.

Brown, after attending day camp for seven years and earning her Gold Award in 2003, has continued to return to camp as an adult leader.

"It's a great way to give back to the community," Brown said. "I reschedule work around this camp to be here in the summer."

The Parkview graduate studies criminal justice at Georgia State University, and she was more than happy to share her knowledge with the campers this year by teaching them to dust their own fingerprints.

While this is the first year the camp has had a forensic science station, a different activity draws campers year after year. The creek walk is so popular that many girls will declare it's their favorite activity without hesitation. On the wet trek through the creek behind the park, girls not only find relief from the heat of the day, but they also examine animal tracks and try to identify what creature made them.

Throughout the week, the campers are aided by 92 adult volunteers who help lead the girls, said camp director Martha Whitman. This will be the sixth year as an adult leader at the camp for Koki Horner of Lilburn, whose girls, Scarlett, 11, and Savannah, 7, are both attending the camp this year.

"Every year, I ask my girls if we are going to day camp," Horner said. "And every year they say, 'Yes!'"