When you’re a kid, summer consists of a strict itinerary involving sunburns, skinned knees, annoying your older brother and plenty of video games.
Well, turns out, that’s not the case for everyone.
There’s a handful of kids at Brown School in Schenectady who are bucking the trend. The summer camp housed at the Corlaer Avenue campus has your summertime mainstays that include swimming, arts and crafts, and gym time. Interwoven into those pastimes this year are exercises intended to instill community awareness.
Brown School teacher Amanda Keil is heading the summer program for the first time this year. At the start, Keil was approached by Natalie Puccio, a 19-year-old summer counselor, with the idea of encouraging young camp-goers to involve themselves with community minded projects. Puccio, an elementary education student at SUNY Brockport, has a long-term plan that involves applying for teaching jobs at school districts with high-risk needs.
The summer fun all started with Puccio introducing a list of ideas to the kids.
“A compilation [of ideas] before [the kids] for ideas that will be profitable and fun,” she said.
Senior campers at Brown School are spending their summer creating and implementing ways to give back to non-profit organizations. During each of the 10 weeks of camp, the students, who are aged nine through 14, will embark on a community service project.
During the first week of camp they decided they were interested in organizing and hosting a bake sale with all of the profits being donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This particular organization spoke to them because some of the students expressed they have family members who were diagnosed with breast cancer. They baked cookies, brownies and even prepared “ants on a log” to sell. They raised over $50 dollars for the foundation and prepared a special letter to accompany the funds.
Keil said the biggest obstacle this summer was tearing kids away from technology. So many of them first expressed the want for their tablets or smart phones, which went away after the first few weeks.
“Our goal is to show it doesn’t take much to help your community,” said Keil. “We hope that this is something they will continue to do as they grow.”
The premise to this year’s summer program falls along the lines of what Brown School has done with their middle school students. The IGNITE program, which was started three years ago at Brown, is a curriculum designed to provide support and enrichment for students. In January, eighth-graders started mock not-for-profits that ranged from organizing animal shelters to gathering medical supplies for the needy.
“At Brown School we want our students and summer campers to become good citizens of our community,” said Keil. “We are proud of how they are working so hard to give back to others in need. It’s a win for our students as they are able to learn the importance of community service and a win for our region as these young people touch lives through giving.”
In addition to the bake sale, the kids were involved with a used toy and blanket drive for the Parsons Child and Family Center, a food drive, wrote letters to the elderly at the Ingersoll home, and had a recent car was to raise money for school supplies to go to the Schenectady Inner City Mission.
“What you give, comes back [to you] bigger,” said 10-year-old camper Anthony DiMascio.
In general, the school emphasizes the importance of community service and giving back. Throughout the school year many dollars are donated to charities from student organized events and activities. Most recently, significant funds were raised for the Schenectady Jay Street fire victims. The school community also donates time and money to Veterans groups. Non-profit awareness is built directly into the curriculum.
With the program winding down to a close, one camper is soon to walk away with the idea that community involvement can be fun too.
“It’s fun and good and puts a smile on your face when you think about what everything is going towards,” said 13-year-old camper Will Klotz.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.