Unity is theme of this summer camp Umoja: For 12 years, Ed Donnellan has run a suburban day camp that offers fun and academic tutoring to children from the housing projects of East and West Baltimore.

July 24, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Ed Donnellan wants every kid to go to camp.

And the energetic coach and teacher is doing whatever he can -- and whatever he can get others to do -- to make that happen.

In 12 years, he's helped at least 1,000 youngsters from the housing projects of East and West Baltimore spend two weeks at Camp Umoja, on the green and wooded campus of Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. A day camp with a twist, Umoja makes tutoring a daily activity, along with swimming and crafts, while depending on about 50 volunteer counselors who get as much out of it as the campers.

"It's about having a good time. It's what every kid ought to be able to experience," said Donnellan, who started the camp when he came to Notre Dame, an all-girls middle and high school.

Today, Umoja -- which refers to the Kwanzaa principle of unity -- is well-known in the city's public housing developments.

"Way before it's time for them to go back to camp, the kids are coming in and asking for applications," said Carol Jordan, a Murphy Homes Improvement Association volunteer who has recruited campers since Umoja opened.

"Just the fresh air makes a big difference," said Jordan. Her youngest child attended Umoja, and two of her grandchildren are at the camp this summer.

Supported by a $10-per-camper fee, as well as gifts, grants and in-kind donations, the four-week camp is one of many summer programs that area independent schools offer to needy youngsters.

Bryn Mawr runs two programs -- Summertech, a math and science workshop for middle-school girls, and Baltimore Readers' Camp for fourth- and fifth-grade girls from city schools. Roland Park Country School also participates in the readers' camp, as have Boys' Latin and Gilman schools.

Friends School has 10 outreach programs -- in music, dance, lacrosse, writing and early childhood education -- that will enroll about 180 students from city schools this summer. And St. Paul's School has a partnership with a city school that resulted in a four-week, full-day course for the top fourth- and fifth-graders.

"Our mission is to provide opportunities for children who could not afford them," said Tad Jacks, assistant headmaster at Friends.

Acknowledging that he's good at hustling the money -- $11,000 annually -- and services Camp Umoja needs, Donnellan marvels at the generosity of others. Notre Dame gives Umoja the run of the campus; a teaching colleague prepares a homemade spaghetti lunch each session; the Baltimore Ravens invited the 50 campers to a day at the football team's training camp; and a doughnut shop operator provides five dozen doughnuts a day.

At Umoja, the campers' favorite activity is swimming. Michael, who's "almost" 10, could not stand still as Donnellan tried to help fTC him find a bathing suit while the rest of his group headed for the pool.

"Swimming will be over," the youngster said anxiously, hopping about.

Seizing what he assumed was a teachable moment, Donnellan said, "Now, this wouldn't be happening, would it, if you had remembered to bring your suit."

"But I don't have a swimming suit," said Michael.

"OK. I'll give you the pair you wore yesterday and you can keep them until camp's over. Bring them every day," said Donnellan, without missing a beat.

In a flash, Michael was in the pool, not pausing long enough to say his last name.

Tutoring sessions are low-key, geared to age, abilities and the goal of making the activities hands-on. They might consist of math problems, word games or map projects.

"I try to do some practical things: geography, time, measurements," said Peggy Weller, who has taught at the camp for four years. "Most of all, I want the children to think."

Finishing a project using bar and line graphs, Andre Curry, 12, said, "I like doing work." A seventh-grader at Dunbar Middle School, he is at Umoja for his fifth year. "When I get older, I want to be a counselor," he said. "I like being with the counselors. They are funny."

Steven Johnson, a 10th-grader at Towson Catholic High School, is just such a camper-turned-counselor. He was at Umoja for three years, in middle school. "When I was here, the counselors really helped me, and I thought I could give something back," said the second-year counselor, who grew up in Latrobe Homes.

But most Umoja counselors come from Notre Dame and Loyola high schools, and very different neighborhoods.

"The only thing they've ever heard about inner-city families is on talk radio," said Donnellan.

Over the years, 450 high school students have worked at the camp. "It would be a lot easier for me to hire people, but the beauty of it is that it's as important to the high school kids as it is to the children," Donnellan said.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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