Camp gives children a haven in community

Apartment managers, county, church unite

July 26, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

To the youngest residents of the Villages of Huntington apartments, they have always been Miss Darlene and Miss Renee, big-hearted caretakers who tend to scrapes and cuts and dole out cool drinks.

But this summer, Darlene Tuck and Renee Hinton are getting more than hip-level hugs in exchange for their kindness. They're getting paid, about $7 an hour.

During the past three weeks, they've been entertaining children with art projects and cultural studies as leaders of It Takes a Village Summer Camp, a trial program co-sponsored by Baltimore County's Office of Community Conservation and the Villages of Huntington management. Several churches have pitched in as well, providing Bible lessons.

The program's diverse web of support is unusual in the county, said Harold Reid, northwest section coordinator for the Office of Community Conservation.

"I haven't heard of any other efforts to develop relationships between the government, private business and the faith community," he said.

Tuck and Hinton have been taking care of lonely kids at the Villages of Huntington for years. "We'd be doing this anyway, even if we weren't getting paid," said Hinton, 35, a widow who stays at home to care for her four children, ages 6 to 15.

Hinton lives next to Tuck at the Villages of Huntington, a 589-unit complex in Randallstown where about half the residents depend on Section 8 federal housing aid to pay their rent.

The friends' geographic proximity, and generous habits, made them well known among children whose working parents left them home alone during the summer months. As the years passed -- Tuck has lived in the complex for eight years, Hinton for six -- the idea for the summer camp gelled.

Tuck, 46, a student at the Catonsville campus of Community College of Baltimore County who is working toward a degree in social work, started a similar program at Winfield Elementary School in 1992 with the help of the Liberty Road recreation bureau. Although attendance was good, Tuck knew that transportation was an issue for some families.

"If you don't drive, you are basically cut off from summer activities," she said.

The program at the Villages of Huntington improves on the Winfield experience: The only thing it requires is that parents "open their doors," Tuck said.

About 67 children signed up for the camp and about 30 of them attend daily, Tuck said. About a dozen teen-agers have joined the group, three as paid interns, the others as volunteers.

"If it weren't for this, they'd be sitting in the house," said Fredericka Pollard, 39, one of several residents who help Tuck and Hinton create programs for the children. Pollard taught pantomime recently.

"It can be difficult for their parents to find something for them to do," said Pollard, adding that camps and summer school can get pricey.

Anita Smith, 55, a grandmother who is raising her deceased daughter's two children, feels good about sending Antonio, 10, and Janay, 11, to the camp, she said.

"I know they are safe and I don't have to worry about them," Smith said. "I'm glad it gives them something to do during the day. It helps me out because I can do things around the house, like clean and wash."

The camp is free to residents of the complex. Funding for the small staff -- about $4,000 -- is covered by the county but donations are needed to cover food, drinks and field trips. The camp operates from an air-conditioned garden apartment, provided gratis by Art Management Inc., which runs the complex. Managers have paid about $8,000 to help get the program off the ground.

With about 500 children living at the complex, it makes sense to provide summer entertainment, said Cleveland Henry, manager of resident services. "We hope this will continue in years to come," he said. "We'd like to see it expand so that even more children can join."

Pub Date: 7/26/99

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