CHESTER: It was a jubilant expression of young Chester talent that greeted those fortunate enough to attend the fundraiser for the Peace, Leadership, & The Arts Camp (PLAC) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in June.
Serious business: The camp, a partnership between Chester Eastside, Inc., and 4 Circles Beyond, Inc., has to generate its own primary funding. That it did, to the tune of $1,200 on that particular occasion. Students who have benefited from the multi-sided program were in the spotlight that evening: reciting poetry and rap, singing beautiful renditions of original compositions — most from memory, without a note or prompt in front of them. It was an outpouring of remarkable talent. Also on the program was a set of dazzling selections by Tribe 1, a Philadelphia-based performing group that numbers among its members Foluke Bennett, Director of PLAC.
There were searing messages about what young folks face these days in many of the campers’ renditions, but also a strong sense of pride in who they are and hope for the future. As if to underscore the challenges for young people of African descent, the group observed a period of silent prayer for the victims of the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and their families.
A beacon of light for Chester youth.
The Peace Leadership and the Arts Camp (PLAC) has provided a creative space for youth within Chester City and throughout Delaware County since 2009.
The camp has served as a beacon of light for young people who have witnessed the city struggle to bring down gun violence over the years. PLAC opened its doors in the summer of 2009 when gun violence began increasing.
“It was evident that the young people really needed a place to go and learn how to deal in a more peaceful way with the conflicts going on in the community and to take some of those skills back to the community,” said Foluke Bennett, Director of PLAC. Bennett said she has witnessed campers become more confident in being their “authentic selves” due to the camp’s focus on conflict resolution and leadership skills.
“Seeing how young people have been able to grow… now they are taking more of a leadership role in the camp as well, designing the activities, leading the activities, and leading their peers,” said Bennett. “I’m constantly inspired by them. Just seeing them be their authentic selves, which is why I’m coming back for a fourth year.”
She recalled how a young camper named David Collins came to PLAC unaware of how dynamic his poetry was. He is now returning to the camp for his third year but this time as an intern counselor. Collins said if it had not been for the camp he would not have known just how creative he could be as a writer. “Throughout the camp, through the exercises and the group activities it helped me open up and express myself more than I usually did,” said Collins. “It even helped me find out talents, features and qualities that really I didn’t see in myself but others did. It helped me acknowledge it better.”
Collins graduated from Cardinal O’Hara this year and is heading to Lincoln University to start his college career, majoring in technical and mechanical engineering… and of course minoring in music. At the fundraiser, he presented an original poem titled “The Power of Words.” He says he is looking forward to being a counselor so that he can give to new campers what was given to him. “It’s a great place to feel safe, express yourself and find your talent; to become a better you,” promised Collins.
Persons wishing to contribute to the Peace, Leadership, & The Arts Camp should send checks to 4 Circles Beyond, Inc., Princeton, NJ 08540.