Summer camp for the little big kid in us all

Seniors are heading to such sleepaway summer camps as in the Poconos, operated by the Salvation Army, where an indoor pool and handicapped-accessible mini-golf cater to the elderly.

Summertime. A lake, quiet woodlands, mini-golf. Ah, sleepaway camp in the Poconos.

Philadelphia natives Joanne Thomas, 65; her twin sister, Diane Colf; and their mother, Anne Thomas, 91, had long wanted to travel together. When Colf retired from her corrections job, they chose Camp Ladore in Waymart, Pa., operated by the Salvation Army.

"And there's no sleeping in tents," Joanne Thomas said with a laugh.

The senior- friendly summer camp has comfortable quarters, and a swimming pool. That mini-golf is handicapped accessible, and there's shuffleboard, bocce, peddle cars, and a talent show, of course.

"We have 80-year-olds riding the zip line," said Barb Korteling, head of conference sales and marketing at Camp Ladore.

The price is right: $220 for a week, with scholarships for seniors in need.

The Salvation Army bought the property and operated its first summer camp there in 1968. In the early 1970s, the land on Lake Ladore was developed for a conference center and Salvation Army groups. The lodge opened in June 1975.

Senior retreat getaways have been held there since 2002, Korteling said.

"No television or phone might be something they're afraid of . . . but it actually changes their whole demeanor," she said. "They get away from news and negativity."

For seniors worried about medical emergencies, a hospital is nearby.

"My favorite part was meeting people my own age," said Anne Thomas. She and her daughters first stayed at Camp Ladore five years ago, and have returned several times since.

"Just relaxing," said Colf. "We now have a group of friends we go with, we do everything, even play cards."

Camp Ladore hosts the senior summer camp from June to mid-October, with about 3,000 seniors attending each year.

Also in the Poconos, at Lake Como, Kislak Adult Center, a recreational and educational facility operated by the not-for-profit NJY Camps, caters to Jewish couples age 55 and over, offering vacations with a full range of activities.

"There's quite a bit of demand for these types of camps by seniors, but there are very few left operating under Jewish auspices," said Phyllis Lauer, administrator for the Kislak Adult Center.

Prices there range from $500 to $575 a week, including meals, activities and some transportation.

The Thomas women also are fans of Road Scholar, which offers educational travel experiences and workshops for older adults, both here and internationally.

Previously known as Elderhostel, nonprofit Road Scholar pairs sightseeing with educational lectures, and has a catalog of thousands of programs that explore culture, history and religion, said spokeswoman Stacie Fasola.

Pennsylvania has one of the largest aging-in-place populations of anywhere in the country, said James Moses, president and chief executive of Boston-based Road Scholar.

"We know that exercise, social engagement, and intellectual stimulation are critical to healthy aging and all three are part of every Road Scholar experience," he said.

Some programs involve very little travel, such as the watercolor-painting workshop that Anne Thomas and her daughters completed through Road Scholar. Others are for the extremely active senior, and include hiking or biking with guides and lecturers coming along.

Though the average Road Scholar is about 72, "we're seeing a lot more people well into their 80s and 90s. So we create activity levels for all our programs, from 'highly active' to very little walking," Moses said. "Years ago, we had a guy who was 102, who would drive to programs. He was an anomaly. Today, people in their 90s are so much more fit, so it's not as big a deal."

Popular Road Scholar trips include New Orleans and Cuba, as well as architectural tours, lectures, and visits with diplomats and government officials and educators. It offers scholarships to seniors as well as their caregivers, so they can travel along.

Anne Thomas has gone on half a dozen Road Scholar programs with her daughters - to Quebec City, West Virginia, and Wells College in upstate New York. In the American Southwest, they traveled to visit Native American pueblos in 2011.

"You're learning something, and you're with people who are [your] age and in similar circumstances. It's a learning experience, the food's good, and it's nothing fancy," said Joanne Thomas.

Her mother said: "It's less expensive than going on a cruise, and I meet people my age in similar circumstances. And I'm learning something."

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808@erinarvedlund