In the coming months, we will be telling about some Chester Eastside programs whose biggest payoff may come months or even years in the future. These programs impact people of all ages – from elementary school children, to people in their late teens and twenties and even their thirties who need to complete high school to prepare for higher education, or the world of work, to parents struggling with the realities of raising children under challenging circumstances.
This month, we take a look at Camp Phoenix, our summer enrichment program for young people. Like the bird of ancient mythology, this Phoenix rises up beyond its origins, taking our children with it. Happy campers
For the first time this year, Camp Phoenix had a distinct theme: Civic responsibility in a democratic society. It thus went way beyond simply an enriching few weeks to an experience in grappling with what it means to live in a society that espouses the inherent value of each of its members and how each of us can help to bring the day-to-day reality closer to that ideal.
Under the able direction of Ms. Kathryn Redd, who has led the CEI summer camp program for the past 12 years, and her assistant, Ms. Vida Johnson, Camp Phoenix is “soaring to new heights,” in the words of Executive Director Rev. Zuline Wilkinson.
From the visit to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to the ending ceremony, where the young people gave inspiring presentations, that theme was brought home to the 33 young campers in multiple ways:
• Increasing knowledge of one’s community and one’s civic role in it.
• Developing peer leadership skills.
• Creating opportunities for self-expression through the arts and computer technology.
• Maintaining academic skills, under the guidance of experts in their fields from area universities and other settings.
• Improving social skills like group decision-making and conflict resolution.
How does one involve active young minds in this kind of content? By giving a different meaning to the kinds of phrases that it’s so easy to turn into empty slogans: Examining words like “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” written in a time when thousands of men and women were held in bondage and women were clearly not treated as equal.
Giving a positive spin to “Black lives matter,” to instill a “YES I CAN” attitude and unleash one’s capacity to make a difference in the world.
But lest this sound like a rather heavy dose of serious business for midsummer, a traditional time away from school, Camp Phoenix also included lots of fun outdoor activity like swimming at the Swarthmore Swim Club.
The gift that never stops giving.
Some campers come back to work as counselors. Edward Nelson, now a student at Morehouse College, for example. Speaking of what the experience at Camp Phoenix has meant to him, he says, “I always think of Ms. Redd saying ‘You’ve got to get your work done before you can play.’ In college there are a lot of parties and other temptations, but my approach is still focused.” And talking with Edward, you quickly become aware that throughout his life, he will stay focused.
Said one mother attending the wrap-up ceremony, where her child and others shared their creative art and other works, “This is wonderful. It should be extended over the whole summer. And I will help raise the money to make it happen.”
So there is a lot of payback at Chester Eastside. When you lend your support to Camp Phoenix and other CEI programs – or to the basic funding for Chester Eastside, Inc., the organization that makes this all possible – you are investing in the future. It is truly a gift that never stops giving, as lives impacted by CEI affect other lives, that in turn will affect still other lives over the years ancient mythology, this Phoenix rises up beyond its origins, taking our children with it.