"That was so so so so so much fun," 10-year-old Argie Velazquez said on Monday as she bounded down the dock before jumping back into Lake Hopatcong. "We were bouncing all over the place!"
Velazquez had just hopped off a motorboat after completing her first tubing experience. She was part of a group of 12 kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Newark, ages 7 to 16, who visited the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club on Monday for a day of swimming, sailing, motorboating, tubing, and relaxing by the water.
"I don't think the kids had any idea how much fun they were in for," said Salma Muro, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Newark, which organized the event in conjunction with the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club Juniors (club members ages 13 to 19). "This is such an exciting experience for them. Urban kids don't have as much access to water .. and so this is something our kids don't typically get exposure to."
It's not just the swimming and playing that Muro said she hoped the kids would get out of the day. "Our mission is to provide an opportunity for these kids to succeed and excel. What that means is we also want to bring to them to experiences that open their eyes to what is out there."
At the lake, she said, they got a chance to see opportunities such as sailing, Jetskiing, swimming, riding in an antique motorboat, tubing, as well as being in a beautiful area of the state. "We want them to realize that all these things are open to them and to know what's out there that they can aim to achieve."
But it wasn't just the Newark kids who had the opportunity to be exposed to new worlds. "This has been one of the most incredible experiences for us," said Leslie Sullivan, 17, a junior member of the yacht club who participated in the day's activities. "We do this stuff every day, and it really opens our eyes to see how really fortunate we are, and how special it is for these kids to get to enjoy what, for us, is everyday life. It's been really amazing."
Each child and teenager from Newark was buddied up with a junior member, and even though the Boys and Girls Club teaches swimming lessons at its clubhouse in Newark, the kids wore life jackets to be extra cautious. In fact, the Boys and Girls Club's vice president of operations Cynthia M. Banks said that several parents got nervous about the lake trip in light of the news reports about a young student drowning on a school class trip in New York, bringing the number of attendees down from the original plan.
"But the kids who are here are having a great time," Banks said. "This is such a treat, and it's a great experience for them to step outside the box and see something to aspire to."
Watching the local kids and Newark kids bond, she said, was also special. "They see, despite their differences, that they have a lot in common," she said. "Fun comes in all shapes and sizes, but it's still fun."
This is the second year in a row that the juniors have hosted a group from the Boys and Girls Club of Newark—both trips have been organized by Michael Gruber, a yacht club member and member of the Boys and Girls Club board.
"We really appreciate his efforts," Banks said. "He's a trustee who's not just about making a monetary contribution—he cares about giving these kids an opportunity."
Gruber has been connected with the Boys and Girls Club of Newark since his daughter, Alexa, started a lacrosse program there as a student at Newark Academy. "I had been involved in that way, and then became a board member, and this was a nice extension of that involvement."
Gruber and the Juniors coordinated most of the logistics, but other members came to help support the effort, and several people from the Antique and Classic Boat Soceity's Lake Hopatcong Chapter asked to be involved, with several bringing their antique boats over for rides. Others arrived with their motorboats, along with with tubes and banana boats for extra thrills.
"This was way better than I ever thought," said 11-year-old Yamil Edgehill, who said tubing was the highlight of her day. Hana Covington, 11, agreed. "I just loved bouncing and diving from the water trampoline."
Jovahn Humphrey, 13, also gave a vote for the tubing as a top experience. "It was awesome," he said. "Just so awesome."
"This whole day has been really special for all of these kids," said Muro. "You have these two groups of kids from two different worlds, and it's just been wonderful to see them come together and have a great time in this really beautiful place."
Photos by Mike Gruber