One man's vision sparks collaborative camp

NEIGHBORS

August 03, 1999|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE THUMPA-THUMP of an inflatable beach ball as it bounces from hand to hand. The scratchy rhythm of papier-mache maracas. Children laughing. Counselors cheering.

Warm sounds of summer fill the air at the Orchard Summer Recreation & Education Program. Held at Waterloo Elementary School, the six-week camp is a collaborative effort of local businesses, county agencies and individuals.

It's also the brainchild of Rob Harper, 69, a retired businessman and longtime community and civil rights activist.

Two years ago, Harper noticed that children near his home at the Orchard Club apartments had little to do during their summer break.

Harper has known the owners of his apartment complex -- Mary and Earl Armiger -- since the early days of Columbia. He approached the couple with a proposal for a recreational and educational summer camp.

He got an immediate thumbs up -- and an offer to match contributions.

"We had one condition," said Earl Armiger.

"I told him we'll support this effort if he chairs it. We'd like to see every kid be able to go to a summer camp they can afford."

The Armigers' company, Armiger Management Corp., owns the 196-unit Orchard Club near Route 100, where Harper lives, and the 223-unit Orchard Crossing apartment complex in Elkridge.

Children from both sites and from nearby neighborhoods attend the camp.

Harper met with Brian Pugh, youth program coordinator for the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. Pugh saw the potential of Harper's plan. One of Pugh's assignments is to create summer programs with community support.

In the Orchard program, families pay a nominal fee to enroll their children in the camp, but contributors pick up most of the cost of the program -- salaries and insurance -- with grants and donations.

Harper and Pugh knocked on doors and solicited support.

The program got off the ground with funding and other help from the Columbia Foundation, the Howard County Housing Commission, Columbia Gym and Fitness Center, Harkins Builders, the Elkridge Adult Athletic Association and others.

The camp opened last year at Ellicott Mills Middle School. This year, needing more space, the camp moved to the Waterloo school.

"It now has room for a variety of interests," said camp director Sandra Lambert.

"Kids can play basketball, dance, or make craft projects in separate areas without disturbing each other."

Each activity has an educational component. The children read, calculate and work together. The camp accommodates 60 children.

During the school year, Lambert is a physical education teacher at Holy Trinity School in Washington.

A cheerful and energetic mother of two, Lambert served nine years in the Army. She left as a captain from her last post, in an intelligence unit at Fort Meade.

The Elkridge resident's teen-age daughters also helped to get the program off the ground. Shantee', 16, a student at Long Reach High School, studies jazz dance, practices aerobics and is co-captain of the school Pom Squad.

She choreographs the dance routines campers use in stage productions, including the camp's Sponsors Appreciation Day, held on July 22 in the school cafeteria.

Lambert's younger daughter, Dionne, 14, also has worked at the camp both years, as a volunteer recreation assistant.

At Appreciation Day, the kids presented two stage shows to the delight of sponsors and parents.

Showing off their new skills, the children, mostly ages 5 to 14, danced a rap version of the Nickelodeon "Rug Rats" theme song. Then the troupe performed a children's story, Judith Viorst's "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day."

In the story, Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair -- and his day goes from one minor calamity to another until he is ready to give up and move to Australia. In the end, with a little encouragement from his mother, he decides to look forward to a better day.

Stage-managing from the sidelines were counselors Dave Lawson, a physical education instructor at Waterloo; Francis Lotz, fifth-grade teacher at Montgomery County's Galway School; Jeff Mohler, junior varsity lacrosse coach at Catonsville High School; Chris Grabowski, 18, a Howard High School graduate about to enter Washington College; and Kinicki Hughes, 16, a Long Reach High junior who aspires to become a doctor.

The kids hit their marks.

When the curtain closed, the audience gave them a standing ovation. Lambert and the counselors flashed quick smiles to each other as they scurried to their next position -- behind the refreshment table.

"This camp is incredible and fun," said David "D. J." Stokes, 11, who played the part of the unfortunate Alexander, as he stood in line for cake and ice cream with the rest of the cast and the audience.

Harper chatted quietly with everyone -- complimenting the children on their performances and telling the sponsors how grateful he is for their support. With all the handshakes, he never got to taste the treats before it was time to go.

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