H2O Summer Service Camp - "When We Feel Heard"

H2O campers used ArcGis to put their observations into a map for city planners to use.

H2O “Help to Others” hosted three sessions of in-person Summer Service Camp in 2021. Middle school participants enjoyed eight days of volunteer work, small group interactions with awesome counselors, reflection, speakers, games, and more! We adapted the program for Covid restrictions, opting to keep our service onsite or at local, outdoor sites. While we hope to return to trips to area agencies like the Greater Cleveland Foodbank and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, we found rich satisfaction in the work of this summer.

The camp theme, “When We Feel Heard” guided and unified the breadth of our experiences. Campers integrated their reflections on service, information from speakers we heard, and their own experiences to reflect on what it means to be heard. As one camper wrote, “This theme has so much depth and meaning. In service, it means listening to those in need and not only listening to their needs and helping them get what they need, but also making sure that they feel heard as people too.” (Shannon Katzenberger, 9th grade). Another camper expressed the need to hear others, but also to be heard in his own life: “If someone who hasn’t been able to express their views finally gets heard, it can change their life. Because of this, it is important as an organization or person to hear everyone in your community but also to strive to make yourself heard and not lose your voice.” (Alessio Matera, 8th grade). They demonstrated a balanced understanding of how critical it is to truly hear others and to cultivate one’s own voice to make a difference in the world.

The highlighted project this summer, which every camper contributed to, was the site we called “Parks and Rec” as a nod to the popular t.v. show. On the first day of each session, Dave Baas from the City’s Department of Planning & Development presented to campers, getting them to think about how the Lakewood community was formed and how it has changed over time. They learned how to use three key planning considerations: Big picture (how parks should grow and change), involving community (are parks safe, healthy, and accessible for all ages), and looking ahead to meet the needs of today while keeping the future in mind.  With fresh perspective and knowledge, they visited Lakewood parks big and small to document existing features and to propose new and additional features. Each small group had an iPad with a GIS app to pinpoint their observations on a map and then offered critical thinking with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. They documented over 700 distinct elements of the parks. They recognized the value of both open space and recreational equipment. They noted elements that needed updates, proposed additional water bottle-filling stations and recycling cans. They expressed interest in new or expanded activities, like disc golf, gaga pits, and additional skateboarding facilities. Ultimately, the information they gathered will help begin the work to update Lakewood’s Parks Strategic Plan in the near future. The campers enjoyed feeling heard, having their opinions matter, and gaining understanding how communities are built and sustained.

Eleven camp groups, 65 volunteers, worked on an outdoor art installation that has been placed in Madison Park. The project was summed up by camper Abriana Heinz: ‘In order to complete the project we all worked together by stringing yarn through multiple fences that, once done, would read as a visual message. Together the fences created the message 'Peace, Love, Basketball.' This message well represented H2O's theme this year, 'When We Feel Heard,' because not only were the basketball players' message, to play, being heard but H2O's message of peace was, and is, being spread on and off the court."

The return to in-person camp included the return of one of H2O’s most popular projects – Clothing Drive! We collected hundreds of bags of donations and thanks to the Lakewood City Schools, we were able to store and sort them, hosting a one-day public sale. All items were fifty cents, including some high-quality items! We raised almost $1,000.00 to support H2O’s service projects before offering the remaining clothing for free in partnership with local agencies.

While the mornings at camp were centered on volunteer projects, the afternoons were full of games and enriching activities. The featured speaker was Kari Kepic from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health), who brought a youth-centered presentation called “Ending the Silence.” They learned about warning signs of mental health conditions and what steps to take if they or a loved one show symptoms of a mental health condition.  On a different afternoon, artist Randee Stroud facilitated creative expression workshops. Camper used magazine clippings, texts, and old books, focusing on creating a piece of art/poetry using the existing words on the page or adding their own. They were invited to apply the theme in any way they chose.

These are just a few of the activities of Summer Service Camp 2021. I hope to share more stories and to keep the memories of this very special summer fresh. We will keep the theme, “When We Feel Heard” in our hearts as we embrace new service work in the community. The H2O program will bring meetings to Harding, Garfield, and Lakewood Catholic Academy in October and we have already launched high school programming. Please contact me at emmie.hutchison@lakewoodoh.net with questions about H2O.

Emmie Hutchison

Emmie Hutchison is the Coordinator of the City of Lakewood's H2O "Help to Others" program. H2O connects Lakewood youth with volunteer opportunities to develop a strong desire to SERVE the community. Nurtured by a culture of kindness, they LEARN valuable skills while helping others. They GROW into more engaged citizens empowered to make an impact in the world.

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Volume 17, Issue 19, Posted 5:16 PM, 10.06.2021