It was a jubilant wind-up session of Chester Eastside, Inc.’s Summer Enrichment Camp at the end of July: young campers and their counselors celebrating the experience and each other through song, dance, and art.
But there was a serious side to the closing event and to the camp season that preceded it. “Make a Change” was the theme, and the change they were talking about had to do with everything from avoiding gun violence in the streets to getting a quality education.
What struck the observer most forcefully was the love-in between campers and the folks who had been doing the enriching on a daily basis for the previous six weeks. The campers waited patiently for a good half hour before the program got underway. No ﬁdgeting. Nobody yelling at anybody. Quite a departure from people’s stereotype of Chester, or what goes on in some classrooms where a lone teacher is trying to manage 25 or more restive children and hoping to teach a little something as well.
The program started with a salute to the people who had helped to make it happen. Counselors introduced themselves – young people, many of them products of the same enrichment camp experience and the CEI After School Program. Then came a series performances by the campers, ranging from six-year-old Leanna Dyitt’s solo, Take me to the King, to middle schoolers expressing their hopes and fears in dance, and the display of massive camper-created portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistan woman who braved Taliban death threats and bullets in her ﬁght for education of women.
The ﬁnale was a rousing rendition, by everybody, from Rev. Bernice Warren and Summer Enrichment Camp Directors Kathryn Redd and Vida Johnson on down to the youngest camper, as well as parents in attendance, of Man in the Mirror:
I’m gonna make a change, for once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right...
Performance was at the center of the ﬁnal session, but has been only one part of the enrichment experience. Everything from helping kids get over the hurdles in reading and math to broadening their world through swimming lessons and visits to museums.
The staff and volunteers have served as marvelous role models, people the campers haven’t watched from a distance but have become their close companions over the course of the camp experience.
But the learning has not all been one way. As counselor Janni Moody, who is headed for a law degree at Widener University, put it, “Working with the kids convinced me that a had to become an advocate.”
Make a change? The campers have already been doing it, maybe without even realizing it.