2009-08-08 / Top News

Children's Program Leaders Find Fun in Work

By Kerri Jo Molitor

After eating lunch at the Pool Grill at Grand Hotel Tuesday, July 21, the children walk through the labyrinth to meet employee Stephanie Scheldt, sitting in the center. As each child reached the center, Miss Scheldt told them they had to show off their favorite dance moves. The boys and girls are in the afternoon session of the children's program at Grand Hotel, which lasts from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. After eating lunch at the Pool Grill at Grand Hotel Tuesday, July 21, the children walk through the labyrinth to meet employee Stephanie Scheldt, sitting in the center. As each child reached the center, Miss Scheldt told them they had to show off their favorite dance moves. The boys and girls are in the afternoon session of the children's program at Grand Hotel, which lasts from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Leaders of the children's programs at two major hotels on Mackinac Island spend their days playing, hiking, and exploring Mackinac Island through the eyes of its youngest visitors.

Both Grand Hotel and Mission Point Resort offer programs for their children that are educational and entertaining that allow parents to attend convention meetings or enjoy a romantic dinner alone.

The children's program at Grand Hotel is based in Rebecca's Room on the first floor, and director Cara Guerro has worked in the program for six years. She is assisted this year by Alison West, an elementary education student at Western Michigan University, and Stephanie Scheldt, who is studying finance at Michigan State University.

Mission Point Resort Kids' Club employee Niki Hanley (center) explains the board game "Sorry" to Tessa Wilson (left) and Kyra Livingston (right), her charges for the evening Thursday, July 23. The Kids' Club's evening session starts at 5 p.m. with a trip to the Butterfly House and continues until 10 p.m. The program is tailored to entertain the children with activities of their choice. Mission Point Resort Kids' Club employee Niki Hanley (center) explains the board game "Sorry" to Tessa Wilson (left) and Kyra Livingston (right), her charges for the evening Thursday, July 23. The Kids' Club's evening session starts at 5 p.m. with a trip to the Butterfly House and continues until 10 p.m. The program is tailored to entertain the children with activities of their choice. "This is a really fun job," said Miss Scheldt, in which you "play with kids and eat every day."

The children's program at Grand Hotel follows a weekly schedule and costs $30 per child per session. There is an afternoon session from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. and an evening session from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Miss West and Miss Scheldt arrive at Rebecca's Room a half hour before each program to prepare activities scheduled for that day.

Each day of the week includes meals at various restaurants and activities like hiking, playing games, having fun at the playground, collecting rocks at the beach, touring the hotel stables, and bowling at the duck pin lane at Woods restaurant.

Grand Hotel children's program employee Stephanie West explains why she loves her job so much as she changes the schedule on the board. She enjoys working with children, she said, and loves that she gets paid to do it. Grand Hotel children's program employee Stephanie West explains why she loves her job so much as she changes the schedule on the board. She enjoys working with children, she said, and loves that she gets paid to do it. The job is to keep these children happy and entertained. The leaders try to stick with the schedule, but if the group doesn't want to play board games, perhaps the craft supplies will be brought out.

"It's the same schedule every week," Mrs. Guerro said. "We have to stick with it and keep smiling, even though you've done it 19 times. This is their first time doing it, so you have to be super fun and energetic. The energy level has to stay up, even when you've played on the playground three times the same week."

The schedule is easily customized to accommodate parent requests or the demands of a large convention.

"If they have 120 kids, obviously a hike in the woods isn't the best activity," Mrs. Guerro explained.

When a group of children is large, more than five children per adult, hotel employees from other departments are called in to help. Group sizes vary from one or two children to their largest group so far, 125 children.

Convention schedules often dictate the hours of the children's program, too. Parents attending conventions often need to drop their children off early so they can get to a meeting, and their schedules also mean children will be picked up early or very late.

The cut-off time for sign-up is 2 p.m. on the day of the event for evening programs and 9 p.m. the night before for afternoon programs. But even that is flexible.

"There are days when we'll be expecting 30 and we end up with 45," Mrs. Guerro said, "so we'll have to be running around getting more supplies and food."

While Mrs. Guerro attends to the administration of the program, Miss West and Miss Scheldt host the children, entertaining them with conversation and games .

On a typical Monday evening, the two help set up for a spaghetti dinner in the hallway near Carlton's Tea Shop while Mrs. Guerro greets the children as they arrive and helps them create name tags. An adult sits at each table, the meal is served by hotel waiters, and dinner is spiced with questions and stories.

After dinner, the children enjoy arcade games, most of which are free this year, a relief to the program leaders who used to dole out quarters provided by the accounting department.

"It was a pain when it used to have quarters," Mrs. Guerro said. "I mean, the little kids can't figure out how many quarters go in, because some are 50 cents, some are 75 cents, and some are only 25 cents to continue. And, the older kids would swindle the money out of the younger kids."

When the last child has finished dinner and the rest of the children have released energy in the arcade room, it is back to Rebecca's Room next door, where tables have already been set up for bingo.

Just as during dinner, mingle with the children, sitting next to the younger ones who will need the most help. The minimum age for the children's program is five, but the real requirement is that the child must be out of diapers. The younger children typically receive more careful attention, but everyone is included in the games and conversation.

Before going to lunch Tuesday, Miss West passed out coloring pages with horses and sailboats, and when Miss Scheldt observed that some of the youngsters were not coloring, she dug out a game of spoons and proceeded to teach them the game. When one of the younger children wanted to play, Miss West offered to help him.

During lunch at the Pool Grill, the supervisors gave the children their beverages, offered them chips, and handed out mustard and ketchup packets. When the meals arrived and confusion began as some of the youngsters either forgot what they had ordered or changed their minds, the employees were unfazed. They have the process of feeding 20 children down to a science, and all mishaps were quickly handled.

After lunch was a quick trip to the labyrinth, where the children could enjoy themselves following the path.

Grand Hotel's stables were the next stop, where stable manager Ben Mosley gave the group a tour and let them pet a horse.

Back at Rebecca's Room, most of the boys headed to the arcade, while a number of girls gathered around the table to make beaded necklaces.

Miss West and Miss Scheldt begin their days at 11 a.m. and are done at 9:30 p.m., and they say they are always energized and ready to play.

"You get to play all day and nobody thinks you're crazy," Mrs. Guerro said. "It's just part of the job. You can act goofy and have a good time. That's what I love about these girls, too...They'll be down on the ground playing with the kids. Playing tag and TV tag, and they don't stop."

Mission Point's Kids Club

Mission Point Resort's Kids' Club offers a similar service, but with a few differences. Two employees operate the program, but if there is a group of five children or fewer, only one works. The average group size is about four or five children, but they do see larger groups when conventions are at the hotel. When they have larger groups, they call in more staff to help.

An evening session is offered from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day because that is when they see the most demand, said activities director Alex White. A program from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends and, when requested, on the weekdays, is also offered. The program, Mr. White said, is geared toward children from age four to twelve. It costs $30 per child per session, which employee Niki Hanley said is a good value when compared to the in-room babysitting the hotel offers.

Every session starts with a trip to the Butterfly House, where the Kids' Club can visit free. Miss Hanley led two children, Tessa Wilson and Kyra Livingston, through the exhibit the evening of Thursday, July 23, reading with them the information on the signs and pointing out different butterflies. They continued to the reptile room, where Miss Hanley showed them the animals hiding in the pond.

"I've never had a kid that didn't want to go to the Butterfly House," Miss Hanley said.

The girls then asked to return to the activities room, where the the Kids' Club is based. The room, Mr. White said, was recently revamped. It has two 32-inch flat screen televisions and a Wii game station. It also houses arts and crafts, books, toys, and dress-up clothes.

"We like to have a lot of tangible things that they can take with them," Mr. White said. "We do name tags some days and we do all sorts of things like draw the sort of person you want to become. You try to sneak the learning in, so to speak."

Air guitar contests have been popular with a couple of the larger groups, Mr. White said.

"This is the best job to have," Miss Hanley said while helping the children paint pictures in the activities room. They moved on to play a Wii game in which they have to run and jump on a mat. Exhausted, the girls soon decided to play a board game. The group trekked outside to the front desk in the gift shop and chose the games "Sorry" and "Life."

Whenever the children decide they are hungry, Miss Hanley will take them to the dining room, where they eat free.

Miss Hanley not only supervises the youngsters, she interacts with them.

"Niki is just so great with kids," Mr. White said. "They're always asking at the end of the day when they are getting picked up, 'Can we stay for five or ten more minutes?' She's just dynamite with the kids."

The point of every Kids' Club session is to entertain the children with what they want to do. That can include anything from board games and crafts to soccer and croquet.

"They do a lot of things that are spontaneous when they find out what the kids want to do," Mr. While said. "We try to tailor it to the kids."

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