Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Karen Hoffman's name.

In a flurry of colored chalk dust and plastic balls bouncing on parachutes, Montara moms Sarah Bunkin and Karen Hoffman have created a perfect environment for controlled chaos and summer revelry. The Montara Street Camp they jumpstarted has turned Farallone Avenue, between 10th and 11th streets, into a haven where neighborhood kids are free to roam.

The camp’s schedule is jampacked with opportunities for the kids to get to know each other. Activities include folding origami, 46-square-long hopscotch tournaments and face-painting. One afternoon will be devoted to a street safety talk given by firefighters.

“We wanted to bring it back to the basics,” said Hoffman. “It’s all about getting Montara kids in the neighborhood outside, playing together … and to get things back to the way we were lucky to have.” With the support of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, the San Mateo County Department of Public Works, the California Highway Patrol and their neighbors, they’re making it happen.

Bunkin was inspired to start the project after reading about a similar camp in Palo Alto, now in its third year, in a book called “Free Range Kids.” The book brought to light surprising statistics about what parents think is safe for their kids versus what is actually safe.

“We’re all so scared to let our kids do things … We loved the idea of encouraging parents, when they feel their kids are old enough, to let them wander and push the boundaries out a little,” said Bunkin.

Because of the camp, some children had the chance to walk home alone several blocks for the first time.

The 30 campers’ ages range from about 4 to 10, and Bunkin and Hoff wanted to ensure that the not-for-profit camp is accessible to every one of them. Entertainment and full supervision for five days from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. costs $100 per camper, covering expenses like hand sanitizers, craft supplies and a permit from the county to close the road.

It also opens opportunities for older neighborhood kids to get leadership development experience as paid camp counselors. In a three-tiered system, 10- to 11-year-olds play the role of counselors in training and 12- to 13-year-olds serve as full-fledged counselors.

Fifteen-year-old Lilly Hall, who will be a sophomore at Half Moon Bay High in the fall, plays the part of lead counselor.

“I think responsibility is knowing you have a job to do, and making sure you can do it correctly,” she said. “Leadership is taking charge of a situation.” Overseeing the other counselors and campers has given her the chance to exercise both.

After three training and brainstorming sessions, all the counselors take turns leading group activities developed collaboratively, including playground classics like Four Square, Sharks and Minnows, and Red Light, Green Light.

By connecting their children, Hoffman and Bunkin also hope that families will foster friendships within the neighborhood. At the end of the week, there will be a celebratory potluck for the happy campers and their families, initiating ties that Hoffman and Bunkin hope will last throughout the summer and beyond.

(4) comments

John Charles Ullom

These folks should be proud. Way cool!! Having neighbors like these makes one proud to be part of a community.

I suggest that they coordinated with town merchants. We all could give donations and or discounts on stuff that the kids would enjoy in exchange for a some sort of promotion of our shops.

Thanks Moms and Dads!!!


What an incredible opportunity for our local counselors to show their community support, have fun and be leaders. Thanks for including us!


Great article - though you misspelled Karen Hoffman's name. I am a parent of one of the campers and the kids are absolutely revelling in their freedom. The freedom to walk the three blocks without a parent, the freedom to play in a street (albeit closed off) and the freedom to just play simple, unstructured activities with other neighborhood kids. Thanks to these two neighbors/friends/moms for providing our kids with this opportunity.


It's exciting to hear about todays parents loosening the stranglehold they have over their children's lives. Kids need a chance to grow up and discover who they are for themselves. This program seems like a great opportunity for the children and the parents.

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