Play with a purpose

Summer camp: Free activities at city park offer children offer much more than fun.

Bright Lights

July 03, 2000

CHEERS for Playground Program 2000, the first free camp sponsored by the city parks department for two decades -- and to staff members' initiative in getting the $340,000 grant to fund the fun.

At Waverly Recreation Center earlier last week, the basement was buzzing with preschool and elementary children. They were finishing breakfast before heading to the harbor to see the tall ships. Teen and parent volunteers joined the kids at the tables, talking up the trip. Artwork adorned one wall, with the wise camp rules above them -- beginning with "I will keep my hands to myself."

Camp runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Aug. 11 and puts underprivileged kids in touch with things they often lack, even in school: art, nature talks, games and field trips. Citywide, 840 children are enrolled at 14 sites.

While this is billed as a camp for 5- to 12-year-olds, teen-age volunteers benefit, too. Brian Boyd, 14, sheepishly shared what he'd be up to if he weren't here: "Tell the truth? Lying in bed. This teaches responsibility, taking care of these little kids. It's a fun job."

On one level, it's about having a good time. On another, it's about breaking the lure of the street. "In urban areas today, there's nothing for kids to do. It leads up to the corner," said Waverly camp director Keon Chavez. "You have to keep their minds off negative things."

Mr. Chavez, who graduated this spring from Coppin State College with an urban recreation degree, smiled when he talked about Playground Program 2000. "It's something to keep kids busy."

These kinds of early opportunities are key to changing young lives. And running a free day camp is a lot less expensive than rehabilitating kids who have gone astray.

"They need a program like this all year," Mr. Chavez noted.

Agreed. But for now, seven weeks is an excellent start.

Bright Lights spotlights people who make a difference in the quality of life of this area. It appears periodically in this column.

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