When I was in elementary and middle school, every summer I would have the opportunity to attend summer camps that centered around everything from sports to pottery– through summer activities, I was able to discover some of my passions and decompress from the school year. However, while summer camps are full of promise and potential, they are not equal opportunity experiences. Most disadvantaged children are unlikely to have a chance to participate. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on summer programs, “Environments, exposures, activities, and interactions during summertime can promote positive cognitive, social, emotional, and skills development, as well as promoting safety and physical and mental health, for children and youth. However, summertime experiences are not evenly and equitably distributed, and many children and youth lack access to quality experiences due to the challenges of availability, accessibility, and affordability. The most vulnerable children—those in households or neighborhoods at a lower socioeconomic level … face the greatest challenges in accessing quality summertime experiences.”
Many, if not all, of us here at Deerfield have been fortunate to experience a variety of enriching summer programs and camps. We have been able to immerse ourselves and broaden our horizons in, for instance, athletics, the arts, nature, and academic pursuits. Summer camps gave us a chance to discover or grow our interests, try something new, connect with friends, have fun, and recharge our batteries for the academic year ahead.
I look back upon the years of rewarding summer camp experiences in my own life with such deep gratitude and appreciation. I wish every child could be able to experience all that summer programs have to offer. It was with this thought in mind that I applied for a Center for Service and Global Citizenship grant; I wanted to help children in my hometown community experience the joy of attending summer camp. I was privileged to have the opportunity to use the grant to help children of low-income/single-parent attend a day camp centered on dance and movement in a safe and supportive environment.
I partnered with Ms. K Partridge (“Ms. K”), founder of Juxtaposition Studios, a dance company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, committed to sharing Ms. K’s message: “Dance is for everybody, every body, and every ability.” Juxtaposition Studios offers one-week day camps throughout the summer centered around movement and creative expression. The camp is popular and well attended, but thanks to a scholarship fund set in place by Ms. K, one camp session is set aside each summer for underprivileged children from the surrounding area; it was this group of campers I was able to help support using the CSGC grant.
Ms. K’s camp made sure to address the necessary preconditions of safety and adequate nutrition, discussed in the study cited above. The daily routine and structure of the camp provided comfort and security for children, beginning with a warm welcome as each child was ushered into the supportive studio environment. Campers colored, stretched and moved their bodies, and danced with props before having a nutrient-dense lunch. CSGC funds enabled me to provide fresh, healthy, organic food and produce for allergy-friendly meals (and a meal-sized snack for home) for each of the campers each morning, a lunch box to store their snacks and leftovers, a water bottle (to encourage consumption of water and promote awareness about single-use plastics), and a drawstring bag to take home their food and drawings.
Based upon the smiles I saw on children’s faces each morning when I arrived to drop off lunch and snacks, the camp was a huge success. It was incredibly rewarding to have the children tell me how excited they were about the meals each day, and I loved to hear that they were enthusiastic about carrots and hummus and bananas. It made me overjoyed that they were so excited about the nutrient dense snacks with which they went home. It was rewarding to see how happy the kids were to file into the studio each day, as was it rewarding to have the opportunity to play a small role in such a happy chapter in each of the children’s lives.
I’m delighted to share the news that all eight children are continuing with dance in after-school classes at Juxtaposition Studios, sponsored by K’s scholarship fund. My summer service project has inspired me to continue to help support the program remotely by asking dancewear companies to donate dance supplies and to ask other donors to support the fund. Hopefully, Ms. K and I can expand the community outreach to serve and support many other underprivileged children in summer and after-school programs.
I would like to thank Ms. K and Juxtaposition Studios for supporting my grant idea, and I would additionally like to thank the CSGC for providing me with the opportunity to help children in my community back home.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Shaping Summertime Experiences: Opportunities to Promote Healthy Development and Well-Being for Children and Youth. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25546.
-Elizabeth Richards ’24