Now is the time to save Camp AHA!

For nearly 30 years, North Canaan has had an after-school program called AHA! It was started by two moms years ago, Lynn Nania and Marcia Ramunni, who had young children at that time. After the first year, Lynn became the sole director. She has continued to keep this program going, which has been a godsend for working parents. Having a safe place with fun activities for your kids until you get out of work is crucial. AHA! provided that.

For the most part, AHA! was financed by those who attended, by multiple fundraisers and a few loyal supporters. As it grew, the town helped with funding to keep it going because the school administrators and our town officials saw the need for our families. This year the town cut that funding by more than half, but upon further review, they did reinstate some of that funding.

Nine years ago, after much encouragement from North Canaan parents, Lynn started Camp AHA!, a summer camp that runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., five days a week, for eight to nine weeks during the summer at the elementary school. She spends an enormous amount of time fundraising to help offset costs to working families. This program also creates summer jobs for our older kids and many retirees who help out.

Programs like AHA! benefit not only our children but their parents and the community as a whole. In my mind, this is exactly the kind of use the school building is there for, as it is, which is paid for by you the taxpayer. I believe citizens should have a say. I’m having mine with this commentary.

Due to the decreasing number of students in all of Region One, Lynn has allowed some children, whose parents work for businesses in North Canaan, to attend. But I have heard that the new principal does not really approve of having children from other communities being allowed into Camp AHA!  Seems a shame that children whose parents work locally should be excluded from such a great resource and opportunity. These out of town families are an integral part of our extended and much larger community.

Unfortunately, it has been decided by the new principal to throw a monkey wrench into this already successful program. Our new principal created an “alternate” summer camp, implemented this year, effectively ham-stringing AHA! over the use of the school building for a program that will only run from 9 a.m. to noon, and only for a few weeks. Not exactly a program for most working parents but, even a minimal attendance, will have a tremendous impact on the enrollment and budget of Camp AHA! And to what purpose was this decision made? I’m extremely disappointed that the principal did not take this into account. I do, however, concede she is new to the area so I do give her a little leeway. Perhaps she was unaware of the impact.

So Lynn, after all these years of toil, sweat and dedication to our kids, with all these hassles and road blocks, is seriously considering calling it quits. North Canaanites, if you think this program is worth saving, you had better let the town and the school know.

Like my Mom used to like to say, “You never know what you have until it is gone.”


Susan Clayton lives in North Canaan, and is a parent who benefitted from Camp AHA!, is a former selectman and a former school board member.