Pathways of Licking County is taking registrations for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders interested in sliding through ice cream sundaes while bonding with their peers during the annual Licking County Junior Youth to Youth summer camp.

Pathways of Licking County is taking registrations for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders interested in sliding through ice cream sundaes while bonding with their peers during the annual Licking County Junior Youth to Youth summer camp.

"There's something magical about it," said Kim Workman, Pathways' program director. "People are able to drop any negativity before they come in."

It's the atmosphere that keeps people coming back, said Maggie Keeran, a former participant who is this year's youth coordinator.

"I fell in love with everyone's enthusiasm and the general atmosphere of it," she said.

The camp is called "Create Me Drug Free" and includes several activities to educate the students about the importance of staying drug-free.

"They learn how to talk to other kids at their schools about being drug-free and how to talk to their principal," Workman said.

The four-day camp will be held from June 24 to 27 at Recreation Unlimited in Ashley. Admission is $250, but Workman said she has donations from several businesses to give $225 scholarships to kids who can't afford to participate.

During the camp, students are paired with others who might not go to their schools. They all meet on the first day and then are divided to talk to each other in what are called family groups. The opening ceremony features Heath band Lies in Ruin, a group of middle-schoolers committed to being drug-free, Workman said.Daily activities are planned, and students have several hours of free time to spend with their new friends.

Workman said one of the activities is called Create-A-Fest, which is designed to encourage students to try something they might be interested in.

One session will show youth how to relieve stress through art. Another will encourage them to make jewelry with different colors of beads that represent important events or interests in their lives. Another will challenge them to make picture frames and decorate them with items that help illustrate the character of the students' photos they will put in it.

"It's about helping them grow into better people," Keeran said.

Student counselors planned and organized the Create-A-Fest activities.

"She (Keeran) works with us to develop the agenda," Workman said.

Personal-growth workshops are held on the second day. Students learn about themselves, learn stress-relieving activities and learn leadership skills.

The second day culminates with a talent show, and the third day offers the "Goofy Olympics," with water-balloon tosses and the sundae slide on which youth slide through ingredients in a sundae. A dance will end the evening, with former camp participant Josh Hoover serving as the disc jockey. Workman said students may request songs during the dance, but Hoover will not play any music with drug references or references to violence. The theme of the camp runs throughout and helps to show the students that they can dance, sing, canoe, swim and have fun without using drugs.

Beside promoting drug-free fun, Workman said, the camp also helps the youth develop improve self-esteem through words written by a mentor. When registering for camp, students write the name of an adult who is important to them. Workman said Pathways talks to those adults and asks them to write the youth a letter, telling the youth why he or she is important.

"Some cry when they read them because they're so overwhelmed," Workman said. "It's really a very powerful moment for some of them."

Keeran, a recent Utica High School graduate, said the camp changed her life and she hopes it will help others in the same way.

"It totally changed who I was," she said. "I cried when I missed my first camp."

Keeran said she plans to attend college to study nursing and her experience at Youth to Youth camp will help her succeed in her career.

"It's (camp) given me a lot of people skills, and I've learned how to handle all different types of situations," she said.

The camp is one part of the Pathways Youth to Youth program, which provides club activities in local schools and three camps annually, all of which encourage youth to live drug-free.

Keeran said she's interested in starting a Youth to Youth program at Utica.

To register for the Licking County Junior Youth to Youth camp later this month, call (740) 345-6166, ext. 228. The camp will accept 100 youths and only had 40 registered, as of last week.

lwince@thisweeknews.com