Campers eagerly awaiting the chance to spend hot, summer days blasting each other with paintballs can finally take aim.
Mixed in with traditional recreation fare at the YMCA's Camp Cristina, a new paintball course is the piece de resistance in a massive renovation project at the 55-acre site.
A $750,000 donation made by the late Ramon Campo, a developer and philanthropist, paid for the paintball course, a disc golf range, a pavilion with picnic tables, and new fencing and signs throughout the campgrounds. The gift also helped cover the clean-up of old camp shelters and a new surface for the basketball court.
Camp officials unveiled the facility's new look last week when about 100 members of the community, including Campo's adult children, attended a ribbon cutting in the shade of the new pavilion.
Diana Ekonomou, Campo's daughter, said she and her brother helped finalize the donation just weeks before their father died in 2006. Campo, whose name also adorns the YMCA in Valrico, donated the Camp Cristina site to the YMCA in the 1980s. He gave the property in honor of his granddaughter, Cristina, who died of complications from a severe heart defect in 1982 at age 3.
The family's latest gift to Camp Cristina is critical at a time when the recession is taking its toll on many local households, Ekonomou said.
"In today's society, (the improvements are) extremely important because some of these kids don't have enough," she said. "Parents are working, they're struggling to pay a mortgage. Kids need a place that they can get away from all that."
Most of the renovations were finished at the start of weekly camps in early June. The upgrades have helped increase the camp's appeal, said program director Darren Dannelly, noting that enrollment has doubled since last summer.
Many kids still attend the traditional day camp, but extreme camps, including paintball for children ages 12 to 15, are gaining popularity, Dannelly said.
Brandon Mojica, a former camper turned counselor, runs the paintball course. Some days he teaches kids and other counselors how to shoot. On other days, he's just one of the targets.
"All the kids love it," said Mojica, 19. "All the little kids are mad because they're not old enough to play yet."
Kevin Smetana can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2439.