Fall-Winter 2002-2003

Summer Camp in Columbia, SC: Community Style
by Dedria Albritton


Fast Forward is a community technology center housed at Hand Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina.  In its three years, Fast Forward has developed a reputation for quality summer camps for children. Each year, the demand has increased, although federal funding has decreased. In 2001, Fast Forward had 240 seats in the summer camps for 5-8th graders and waiting lists of up to 10 children for each 20-student summer camp last year. We had to find a way to serve more children.

With a dream of increasing the number of seats in our summer camps by 100, planning began in June 2001. The first hurdle was how to transform a lab with 24 computers and 12 laptops into space for 340 children. The first resource to come through was Hand Middle School. Administrators had an extra lab and two classrooms available.

An experiment in the summer of 2001, using a high school senior to teach a keyboarding class, gave Fast Forward the possibility of creating a corps of teachers from the local high school. Dreher High School came through with ten juniors and seniors who were willing to train and teach for the summer. In addition, our pool of 16 youth volunteers (5-8th graders) swelled to 28.  Each youth was willing to work all year and volunteer all summer. Some youth volunteers gave over 300 hours in seven weeks.

More problems solved:

  • Snacks for each camper, volunteer, and teacher were a substantial expense. Piggly Wiggly, a local grocery store, allowed us to purchase everything at cost and stored the snacks for us—3,000 juice boxes, 10,000 cookies, and 30 pounds of pretzels.
  • After-camp care has always been a problem; camps end at 12:00 noon.  A meeting with the City Parks and Recreation Department supplied the answer. The City agreed to provide after-camp care at the park across the street until 6:00 p.m. at $20 per week per child.
  • Fast Forward needed scholarships for students who could not afford the $35 fee. Local businesses and individuals came through with scholarships for the students.
  • PC Teach It magazine, headquartered in Columbia, provided the supplies for the PC Teach It Camp, along with incentive gifts for students and art and craft supplies for after-camp care at the park.
  • East Coast Special Tees gave t-shirts for the price of the freight when our donated t-shirts turned out to be the wrong size.
  • Fridays were celebration days. Parents were invited to a Popsicle Party at 11:30 a.m. to see the accomplishments of the week. Some children had no one to come. A call to Shandon Presbyterian Church produced volunteers who came every Friday to celebrate with students who had no one with whom to share.

Our summer camp schedule was published in April 2002, and seventy percent of the classes were full by the second week. We added more camps—480 seats would be available in seven weeks (plus 220 seats for adults -- 700 in seven weeks).  Sixty to eighty children from every walk of life, every financial background, and every neighborhood joined together each week.  Through special funding, a bus brought children from one of the most impoverished areas of Columbia for two weeks of camp. Every zip code in Columbia was represented.

Children with special needs, home-schooled children, children with learning disabilities, children from the best neighborhoods in town, children from neighborhoods most people would be afraid to enter all worked together in teams to build robots and make movies. They learned keyboarding and created projects in PC Teach It Camp.

When a community comes together, anything can happen.  It did in Columbia, South Carolina this summer. It can in your community, too.

Dedria Albritton is the director of Fast Forward in Columbia, South Carolina.

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