Cultivating Today’s Children

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

In this fast-paced metropolitan world it is easy to get absorbed in the materialism and competition that embeds itself in popular culture. Taking time to help others is a hopeful possibility at best and a disregarded probability at worst. The immensely fast paced world of the college student does not seem to leave lots of time for rest, let alone community service.

But for almost a decade, St. John’s University has been a part of CampUs, a summer camp program that teaches inner-city kids the joys of fun, learning, and friendship. CampUs is one of the programs included in the After-School All-Stars of New York program. In both CampUs and other All-Stars programs, St. John’s students volunteer time and energy from their busy lives to help others-a reflection of the school’s Vincentian origins.

Jonathan Guerrero, a director of the After-School All-Stars program, says one of the benefits of the programs is that participants are “giving back to the community and to future generations.”

CampUs is an academic and sports day camp that teaches children how to improve their reading and writing skills, how to use computers, and how to participate in and enjoy the sports offered.

Themes for CampUs 2006 and 2007 include “Say NO to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco” and “Be of good character at home, at school and on the playing fields.”

In a joint effort with City College and SUNY Old Westbury, CampUs has had over 8,000 children in the program. In 2006 alone 1,100 kids were sent to these various campuses that house the program; St. John’s had over 800 kids in the program.

For the month of July, children ages 7-14 attend CampUs. Sports at CampUs, and its larger affiliate the After-School All-Stars of New York program, help teach kids about participation and community, peer communication and friendship.

Christopher Pacciani, a senior at St. John’s, has been working with the All-Stars program for four years. He says that the children in the programs get a “sense of security. Kids can come and basically have fun.”

With goals aimed at challenging and nourishing the children’s minds and hearts, CampUs is cautiously structured to reflect a school day. In the morning, academic work takes up three periods, including a two-period devotion to reading and writing and one period of work in the computer lab. From track to volleyball, two periods of sports follows and ends the five-period day. Success is sweet for CampUs, as more than 60 percent of the kids attending the program since the millennium have enhanced their writing skills.

But it takes far more than a well constructed schedule to truly affect kids. The lessons of each period are intended to help these kids ultimately learn about themselves and define who they are.

In the larger effort to help New York City youth, the After-School All-Stars of New York program has worked for more than a decade to achieve four main goals. They are: to keep children safe, to teach them new skills, to build self-esteem, and to develop in each child that which is unique. More than 20,000 New York kids have been involved in the program since its inception.

Churchill’s reflective words of giving are animated by the tremendous work of volunteers.

“Our student workers love working with children,” Guerrero says.

Because of the children’s economic situation, CampUs at St. John’s does nothing short of providing city kids with a summer camp experience that they would have otherwise not have been able to have. The experience is intended to help kids enjoy learning about academia and sports but more importantly about life and themselves.