A tennis ball flies across the court in front of me. Taking turns, a line of kids swings away at the balls tossed by their counselor. “Set your feet! Swing parallel to the ground! GREAT SHOT!” The constant coaching, smiles, high-fives, and positive vibes ripple across the tennis court confirming for me that this summer enrichment program has all the right stuff.
A group of kids head into the Hopewell Community Center to kick-off Sports Week, part of the Adventure Camp series.
When I dropped by the Community Center to check out their summer camps, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find. Turns out, I found a lot! A lot of fun, a lot of kids-in-action, and a lot of caring counselors creating well-rounded, active, and respectful youth.
For nearly 20 years, John Randolph Foundation has supported summer camps at the Community Center. The programs nurture kids in so many ways – physically, socially, intellectually, emotionally – it’s a grant that impacts all of the Foundation’s funding priorities.
Tabitha Martinez is there to greet me. She’s the Special Events Supervisor and is responsible for making the magic happen. Tabitha says, “We like to give the youth something to talk about when they go back to school. But most importantly, we help them learn something over the summer. That’s why I like to call what we’re doing here a summer enrichment program.”
And that’s exactly what Jasmine Noland is looking for. Jasmine is a mom and a full-time VCU police officer. Her son, Jamau, is enrolled in several of the weekly camps for the second year in a row. Jasmine was looking for camps that offered new experiences, nutritious meals, and a community setting familiar to Jamau. Hopewell Rec’s camps were just the ticket!
Jasmine tells me, “Last summer I was working night shift and sleeping in the day, and my parents were helping with Jamau’s care. [This camp program] helped me tremendously and was affordable. And Jamau really liked the camps – especially Sports Camp and attending the Richmond Flying Squirrels game – so we signed up again this year!” She laughs and continues, “He’s been asking me every day, when does camp begin?”
Summer campers learn crab dodgeball (a variation of dodgeball played in a “crab position” pictured above) and other activities designed to teach teamwork.
Hopewell Recreation and Parks offers several weekly camps across different age groups and interests. There’s Kiddie Camp for pre-schoolers and Explorers Camp for ages 5-7. Adventure Camp for ages 8-12 combines a variety of traditional camp activities with field trips, special guests, and themed activities. Some of the week-long themes include aquatics, art, outdoors, science, and sports – like tennis and crab dodgeball. They even offer summer camps for 13 to 17-year-olds with community service opportunities.
I notice it’s almost time for lunch as I see a big white bus pull into the parking lot. “That’s the Blue Devil Express,” Tabitha tells me. “A rolling food program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They bring breakfast and lunch for the kids to the Center each day of the camp. It’s great. They can even customize the meals according to individual nutritional needs.” I watch as Tabitha and a counselor carefully go over each meal as it’s transferred from the bus to the Center.
Tabitha Martinez picks up her campers’ lunches from the Blue Devil Express, a Summer Food Service Program.
After lunch, I learn more from Tabitha and Jasmine who have both seen changes in the kids who attend camp. Tabitha tells me, “When the kids arrive on Day 1 we go over expectations, and we show them we care about them. It changes their whole mentality [towards the camp experience.] I firmly believe high expectations yield high results, and we frequently see growth and maturity development [in our campers.]”
Jasmine agrees. “As a former school bus driver, I could see real differences in kids who attended summer programs compared to those who didn’t. Any programs that can help our youth stay out of trouble and continue their education during the summer are very important. I’ve seen it as a law enforcement officer, too. It’s so important to keep kids busy with age-appropriate activities in settings that help their social development.”
At John Randolph Foundation we believe that enabling our youth to experience active and healthy summers goes a long way towards our mission of healthy communities. By helping Hopewell’s Recreation and Parks Department provide high-quality, affordable summer camps, we’re enriching kids’ lives and brightening their futures – one summer at a time!Blue Devil Express, Grants, Health and Wellness, Hopewell Community Center, Hopewell Recreation and Parks, summer camp, Youth Development
This post was written by Ann Easterling