Vanessa Williams can spare a moment – but just a moment – to let you know how things are going at The Club at Collington Square, the Strong City-run youth development program in East Baltimore where she serves as director.
You can forgive her for feeling a bit harried. During the school year, things are busy enough for her, with about 92 students (The Club calls them “scholars”) attending enriching after-school weekdays from 3 to 6:30 p.m. But from June 25th to August 12th, the program day expands to about 142 scholars and a day that lasts from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Somehow, Ms. Vanessa gets it all done with her regular year-round staff (mostly young men and women from the local community), plus a couple of additional summer employees and a group of teens from the Baltimore City YouthWorks program.
To address the problem of “summer slide,” Club scholars participate in academics every day, but also a wide range of activities including arts and crafts, drumming, dance, free verse, karate, team sports, fitness, nutrition and cooking. There’s a weekly swim excursion and other trips planned, including one to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
This year, The Club has seen a significant increase in middle school students in the summer program, and has responded with a more developed program for them focusing on community service, mentoring younger kids, and looking ahead to high school and college (including visits to the Coppin State and Morgan State campuses).
“The joy of it is really seeing them come in the morning with smiles on their faces and wanting to be here,” Ms. Vanessa says. “The challenge is making it work when we don’t have a lot of space. We had to turn away some people as well – that always breaks
my heart, saying no. We could easily have 200 kids in here, based on the demand.”
Also challenging is the fact that many of the scholars face issues related to poverty and problems in their home lives. So, in addition to all the difficulties of running a summer camp in a cramped space, staff have to be “present to their needs,” Ms. Vanessa says. “I had a little fourth-grader here, he was in tears and rightfully so, because of some issues going on in his home,” she recalls. “The challenge is, with this many kids, to know who needs what and when they need it.”
The Club, which Strong City took over from Episcopal Community Services of Maryland last year, is facing a budget shortfall. You can help by making a donation here.