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Spring Break Brings Camps to D.C. Kids

Spring break usually brings silence to school hallways, but that wasn’t the case at J.O. Wilson Elementary School, where close to 100 children, mainly first- through fifth-graders, gathered for the fourth annual Camp City Year.

The camps, held nationwide during the winter and spring recesses, operated locally this year from March 28 through April 1. For roughly the hourly price of day care, parents were able to send their children to camp for a week. There, the children had the opportunity to play and learn with others in their age group, as well as to learn the value of community service.

In addition to Wilson Elementary on K Street Northeast, the camp was held at the Arts and Technology Academy Public Charter School on Blaine Street Northeast.

This year’s theme was “Destination Discovery: Where in Time is Camp City Year?” Through hands-on activities, such as making rocket ships out of aluminum foil and plastic soda bottles, the children were exposed to new ideas that dealt with the world of the past, present and future. They also were introduced to a blind woman using a guide dog and to a group of local firemen who brought a ladder truck for them to see.

The camps, as well as the entire City Year organization, have support from both Members of Congress and the president.

“We have tremendous bipartisan support we are very grateful for,” said Jennifer Ney, director of public policy for the D.C. branch of City Year. “We’re pleased that this remains a presidential priority.”

Each of the 15 camps receives a visit during the week from the lawmakers representing the district. In Washington, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has shown continued support for the camps and for the organization.

“Camp City Year is another one of those brilliant City Year or AmeriCorps ideas that social services and many other attempts to deal with our children have never even thought to deal with,” she said. “Parents work during spring vacation like everyone else. What do you do with kids? The notion of having some place safe and fun to leave a kid in a big city is invaluable. This program, Camp City Year, is an example of why I have been such a big supporter of City Year and AmeriCorps.”

Of course, the camp would not be possible without the generous donations of the many sponsors that City Year has acquired throughout its 17-year existence.

Although it is a federally funded organization through AmeriCorps, only 30 percent of its financial support comes from the federal government. Officials must work every year to raise twice as much as what the government provides, and that isn’t always an easy task.

Marc Hosmer, one of the camp’s co-directors, stated that he put in, on average, 55 hours a week of service to the organization, and some weeks it was closer to 75. He spent that time tracking down companies to donate food and supplies for the camp, such as Whole Foods and the Capital Area Food Bank, as well as pizza parlors and Hooters restaurants for wing day.

One of the camp’s largest sponsors is Timberland, which in addition to providing City Year volunteers with uniforms and boots also donates both time and money to the program each year.

“Timberland has been a partner with City Year for many years,” said Liam Somers, operations specialist for Timberland. “It’s a great way to serve and make an impact on the lives of a lot of little kids.”

The schools benefit from the program as well. Instead of charging City Year for access, the school asks for service projects to be performed by the participants.

So 200 Timberland employees and the older children attending the camp worked to revamp an unkempt baseball field located at J.O. Wilson Elementary along with other projects both inside and outside the school. The younger children were given the task of writing letters to servicemen and women overseas.

The camps’ volunteers, who are 17 to 24 year olds, come from different walks of life. From high school graduates, to those working on their GEDs, and one on her way to medical school, the ethnically diverse volunteers all share the common goal of motivating the future generation to work in programs such as this.

“Maybe someday they’ll be corps members,” said Audra Petersen, development associate for the D.C. branch of City Year, of the camp’s young participants.

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