A Not-So-Average Summer Camp
The term “summer vacation” resonates in the minds of all ages. For some of us, we think of it as a distant memory, while children and young adults, on the other hand, are enjoying their time away from school. One thing that sticks with us from this time are the memories of summer camps and activities. Getting the chance to attend a summer camp helps children mentally grow by leaving their parents to partake in fun experiences. For one camp, The Yellow Bus Summer Camp, the chance to grow and learn is crucial to the future success of each child who attends.
Gift1 by Powernet jumped at the opportunity to work with the The Yellow Bus Summer Camp when we heard about what the program is trying to accomplish. It’s not everyday you hear about a camp dedicated to educating homeless children in America but that is what The Yellow Bus Summer Camp is striving to do. The camp, which was started by local non-profit UpSpring, formally known as Faces Without Places, 18 years ago in Cincinnati, OH, is an educational and enrichment-based program for local children experiencing homelessness. No one wants to think of homeless children, but there are an estimated 6,000 children who experience homelessness in Greater Cincinnati area alone each year.
Trying out Tablet Technology
When Powernet arrived at the St. Francis De Sales School with packed lunches for the campers, we were greeted by counselors in yellow shirts carrying around tablets with anxious children hot on their heels. Some students were already sitting together, careful to make sure everyone could see the tablet stationed on the desk in front of them, playing math and reading games.
“For some of the students, this is their first time using tablets unless they checked them out of the public library,” said Zjanya Arwood, one of The Yellow Bus Summer Camp counselors.
Zjanya went on to tell us that the kids in her room were around nine or ten with some 11 and 12 years old, but they ranged in grade levels from second to fifth grade because many of the students had been held back.
There were three rooms full of students: the kindergarten room, 2nd-5th and the older kids who were fifth grade and up. In the kindergarten room, each table had a tablet and the campers were told to be very careful. While they were all excited to play the group math/coloring game, they touched the tablets gently and treated them well. When it was time to turn the tablets over to an adult, they were reluctant to stop playing yet respectful of the instructors. The campers looked simply happy the whole time we were there and couldn’t wait to share what they were working on with us and their classmates.
“Most are in shelters or transitional homes or living with a lot of family,” Megan Bowling, another camp counselor, told us. “They’re very upfront about living in a shelter and some of them know each
other already because they’re in one shelter together but they love hanging out with each other.”
The counselors and volunteers all agreed: They have a great group of students who are all well-behaved, bright-eyed and are optimistic about the future. One of our Powernet volunteers, Yvonne Lowery commented, “This was someone's third year of camp and another's first. They talked to me about their siblings and their moms. They were open and lovely and they showed hope, resiliency and trust. Something I am certain the camp helps give them.”
When Learning Becomes Fun
The Yellow Bus Summer Camp goes beyond giving kids a fun summer full of activities. UpSpring believes that education is the key to breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty. With that in mind, the camp’s goals attempt to improve the campers’ reading and math skills as well as their health and well-being while providing them opportunities they may not get elsewhere.
“We have a 95% improvement rate for reading and math by the time the summer is over and the kids are going back to school,” Megan told us.
The Yellow Bus Summer Camp and UpSpring, with Powernet’s help, are going above and beyond to give Cincinnati’s homeless children a fun and educational experience that prepares them for the upcoming school year. But this is about more than the upcoming school year. It’s about young minds learning lessons that will help them create a better future for themselves. It’s about breaking a vicious cycle of hardship. It’s seven weeks at camp for a lifetime of opportunity. That’s one special way to spend your summer vacation.