COAL CITY – Coal City first-grade student Willow Eilertson pushed her hands in the blue paint, then the yellow and red, then rubbed them together until the colors swirled together to form brown.
She gently placed her hands on a poster, making sure all of the blank spots were gone before she called her handprint masterpiece finished.
Willow, along with more than 130 other children from the Coal City area, gathered Saturday for a morning full of fun at the free Back to School Camp Day at Coal City Middle School, sponsored by the Morris YMCA.
On the grounds of the middle school were inflatables, a petting zoo and horse rides, a strategic game of gladiator dodgeball, an arts and crafts tent and snacks, as well as rides on the Grundy County Corn Fest train.
Parents dropped off children of ages ranging from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade for a morning of fun with camp counselors from the Galowich Family, Smith Family, C.W. Avery Family and Morris YMCA branches.
“Our summer kind of flattened due to the tornado. Our house looks like the ends popped out, so we are renting an apartment in Diamond. This is the kids’ final chance to have some fun before school starts on Aug. 14,” Lana Eilertson said.
The free camp day was created when Morris YMCA Executive Director Missy Durkin visited Coal City Superintendent Kent Bugg two days after the tornado, asking what she could do for the community.
“I talked to Dr. Bugg and went back to work, and spoke with the CEO and COO of the YMCA and told them that we needed to do something for the Coal City community,” Durkin said. “Then I talked to Dr. Bugg to come up with a plan where the kids could have fun, as well as the parents.”
Durkin and Morris YMCA Program and Membership Director Sarah Porzel put their heads together to create a free mini day camp and family lunch.
“I think many of the kids had a tragic summer with the tornado and many are displaced in different communities, so this gives them a chance to come back to their town before school and just be kids,” Porzel said.
Durkin said organizers wanted to have a superheroes theme for the event because “these kids are superheroes for weathering the storm.” Because of this, white capes were placed in the arts and crafts tent for the kids to color and wear, and then signs were out for the kids to paint, which will be distributed to all of the Coal City schools in remembrance of this day.
Aidan Edmons of Coal City worked on his cape for more than 10 minutes, first making a red banana man, adding a sword, with a yellow sun. He talked about his summer as he colored.
“I wanted to come and play and ride a horse, because I have never ridden a horse. And, when I go home, I can’t go home, it is being rebuilt. But, I have a new house where I am staying and it has jets in the bathtub and that is a lot of fun,” Aidan said.
Also displaced by the storm was Dane Noffsinger. He spoke of his house being full of leaves and dirt, and walls being completely gone.
However, that wasn’t bringing him down Saturday. He donned his superhero cape and face paint, and got in on the games action.
“I like to play games and when is it my turn to play gladiator dodgeball. I really want to throw balls at someone,” he said.
The morning came to a close with a couple hundred parents, kids and volunteers participating in a lunch on the lawn sponsored by Morris Hospital.