Franciscan

Friars Club Summer Camp

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Five-year-old Duane is learning to play kickball.

When his foot makes contact with the soccer-sized ball, propelling it past the pitcher, he is so stunned he doesn’t know what to do.

"Go, go, go!" the coach hollers.
"Run! Run!" yells a teammate from the sidelines.
Cheered on by all of them, Duane takes off like a shot.

Somewhere, someone is keeping score for this game, but it doesn’t matter. The kids are here to hone their skills, burn some energy and learn to be teammates. At the Friars Club Summer Camp, it’s not whether you win or lose that counts. It’s how you play the game.

This and other life lessons are painlessly imparted during this eight-week program for 5-to-12 year-olds from the city and suburbs. A first for Friars in its new location in St. Bernard, it brings together 42 children five days a week for athletics, academics and "enrichment" through field trips and arts and crafts.

"During the summer they need a safe, supervised place to go," says Annie Timmons, Executive Director of Friars Club, a sponsored ministry of the friars. Annie was inspired to open the camp by memories of her first job years ago with Friars, when she was hired to run their summer camp. Her own childhood was less than perfect. As camp director, "I got to do things I never did as a kid."

It’s a bargain
At this camp Director Karen Meyer, the school nurse at St. Boniface Elementary, supervises a three-ring circus. "I pretty much oversee all the children" as well as their counselors, most of whom are college students, she says. Divided into three age groups, kids rotate from the gym for exercise to the lobby for arts and crafts and the learning center for lessons that bridge the gap between school years. Everyone gets breakfast, lunch and snacks and participates in swimming at the local pool and outings to places like Coney Island and the butterfly exhibit at Krohn Conservatory. All this costs parents about $10 a day, and low-income families pay a fraction of that. This year Friars Club funded most of the program because "I wanted to get it started," says Annie.
Next year, "We need someone to subsidize it."

Kids aren’t the only beneficiaries at Summer Camp. Twenty-three-year-old Jhvin Landrum, "Coach J" to the kids, is one of two counselors hired through the Hamilton County Job and Family Services program. The income is helping her support her own two children. Most of the 10 counselors grew up with Friars Club. "My dad is a coach; he’s been involved with Friars Club all of my life," says 20-year-old Ariana Coleman. Sean Cook has played sports at Friars for 15 of his 19 years.

"I’ve been around Friars since I was 10," says 19-year-old counselor Charlinda Colbert. "I fell in love with coaching, kids, and being a positive influence for them."

In the learning center, 19-year-old Mikayla Chess calls out letters for Bingo to kids who are surprisingly absorbed in this low-key, low-tech game. The stillness is broken only by an occasional comment:

"I need one more!" "I got that!" "Oh man!"

"Kids love the interaction at camp," says Mikayla, who happens to be Annie’s niece. "If you show them they have your attention, they’ll give you their attention."

Bingo.

Lessons learned
In the lobby, Karen sorts through stacks of art projects: flowers fashioned from cereal; umbrellas cut from paper plates colored with crayons. Sharing a table with three other wee ones, 6-year-old Braylon is stringing a bracelet made from Froot Loops. His favorite activity? "Field trips!" he exclaims. "We went bowling and skating; we went to the butterfly exhibit." Informed of an upcoming visit to the zoo, kids let out a collective "Ooooooh!"

When it’s time to move to the learning center, Jhvin orders, "Line up! In line!", and they obediently fall in step. "The only way to keep order is to line them up when they change stations," she explains.

Kids need this kind of structure, Annie says, "They need somebody to tell them what to do. They need social interaction to be able to get along with each other." Last week, "We went to an anti-bullying seminar at Roger Bacon." It covered topics such as, "How to deal with problems, how to deal with things without a violent reaction; when someone hits you, you don’t hit back." Such messages are powerful and necessary, especially in this summer of unrest and uncertainty in America. "With violence, everything comes from the beginning stages," Annie says. "We are getting them [the kids] at 5" at Friars Club, young enough to retain those lessons for a lifetime.

"It’s an excellent program," says 17-year-old Selah Cook, sister of Sean and the youngest counselor here. "It teaches them a lot of values like friendship and respect." And just as important, it gets them off the sofa and away from video games.

Asked, "Which is more fun, being here or staying home for the summer?", 10-year-old Zalman says, "Being at camp!" Otherwise, "I’d be relaxing and watching TV."

Getting along
Depending on drop-offs and pickups, the day can last from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. So the rest period after lunch is as much for Karen and counselors as it is for the kids. "This is totally new for me, working with this big a group, making sure they all get along and feel they fit in," Karen says. Despite the inevitable spats and tantrums, "I’ve enjoyed every moment."

And so have her own children, regular attendees at the camp. "I just like how nice the kids are," says Brooklynn Meyer, 12. "Playing with all the kids is fun," says her brother Logan, 11.

In the gym, the second round of kickball is underway. When 7-year-old Henry steps up to the plate, he punts down the middle and runs to the base. A player attempts to tag him with the ball and misses by a mile. "Keep going!" the coach yells. Henry runs clear around the makeshift diamond and heads for home. Even before he gets there, he is jumping for joy.

"Touchdown!" he shouts, pumping his fists in the air. The laughing kids on both sides seem just as excited.

"If you look at them," Annie says, "that’s what we’re all about."

More photos on our Flickr page.

Learn more about Friars Club programs at http://www.friarsclubinc.org/.

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