Summer is a time when kids take full advantage of a different pace to their days without school. At Care Fresno, we take a 5-week break between after school program and summer program to rest and regroup, and then we run 5 weeks of summer program before heading to camp. Summer program runs three days a week, with almost all of our sites running program in the morning when it’s cooler. We get to see kids when they are just waking up and haven’t been sitting in school all day. They don’t have homework, so the block of time that would otherwise be used for homework can be used for enrichment activities like science experiments or learning about other cultures. We do reading and math worksheets, read, play, and have Bible studies.
Without the pressure of homework, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by our kids asking for more math and reading worksheets. I was also delighted by how excited my mentee and her brother were by a trip to the public library. They had never been to a public library before and they were thrilled by the experience. Christopher exclaimed, “There are so many books here I’ve never read!” which is exactly why I love libraries, too. I helped them sign up for the summer reading program and they each got a free book. They couldn’t wait to complete the requirements of the summer reading program so they can receive another free book. They each eagerly grabbed a book and silently read without prompting. Kids are eager to learn in ways that I hadn’t expected, and they crave the structure of a positive learning environment even while enjoying the freedom of not being in school.
At my site, many of the kids who come to summer program are different from the kids who come to after school program during the school year. The first day that I was at summer program, one of the girls who doesn’t live in my apartment complex and hasn’t been coming during the school year greeted me with, “I remember you!” She was in my cabin at camp last summer and eagerly told me what she remembered of camp, beginning with, “Do you remember the night we all cried?” which is how the kids typically refer to the night when we encourage the kids to talk to God and invite them to ask Jesus into their lives. I talked with this girl about what she remembered about that night, and she reminisced about how she told Jesus she wants to live in heaven with Him and what that was like. The “mountaintop experience” is real, when someone returns from camp or another experience and the excitement and impact wears off. At the same time, real life change can result from mountaintop experiences and it was encouraging to hear about the impact that experience at camp had on this girl a year later. She cannot wait to go to camp again and as we went through the Bible story for the week, she was eager to learn more about God.
Summer highlights for me some of my favorite aspects of Care Fresno. While I have occasionally described Care Fresno as an organization that runs after-school programs in apartment complexes, the beauty of what we do at Care Fresno is not the after school program or homework help, but the relationships that are initiated during program and deepen outside of program hours. With more free time, kids come over to our apartment to talk about what they want to be when they grow up, play games, and make art projects. Summer allows for more time to explore our own town, go on field trips, and experience camp. Through it all, we get to create memories and build relationships as we mentor kids, and it is through these relationships that I expect lasting life change to take place.
"No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." Dr. James Comer, Yale University
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