Remembering H2O Summer Service Camp 2013

School has started, fall sports and past-times are picking up momentum, and soon the weather will show signs of change as well. Even as summer fades amid this flurry of autumn activity, H2O’s Summer Service Campers still carry fond memories of volunteering around Lakewood and the greater Cleveland area with their peers. As one camper, Grace, phrased it, “H2O isn’t just a summer camp, it’s a place for making friendships, and you leave knowing you are part of a change.” That is a powerful feeling for middle school kids!

The sense that one leaves the camp experience confident in making an impact was reinforced through this year’s theme, “Drops of Kindness, Ripples of Change.” While the theme extends H2O’s 20th Anniversary tagline, its meaning was explored more deeply through shared stories. The reflections that grew from applying the theme were moving and profound. Each of the 9 counselors shared personal accounts of being inspired to volunteer through their involvement with H2O, and then pursuing their passions as they grew and matured. From literacy programs to working with Habitat for Humanity, each counselor shed insight into how service shaped their character and their choices in life. As another camper, Lizzie said, “This shows…that just one little gesture of kindness and service can go such a long way and help so many people. It’s the best feeling in the world to know that you helped someone and that your drop is making a difference.”

This summer, 194 campers donated 3,255 hours; quite a few drops of kindness! One highlight of service each year is the Cleveland Foodbank, where kids mostly pack lunches for summer programs. They learn that some children from food-insecure households rely on lunches from schools, and could potentially be hungry during summer without these programs. Their work at the Cleveland Foodbank and at Lakewood Community Services Center are truly eye-opening experiences. Another area of programming allowed campers to learn about the lives of immigrants and refugees. They tutored through the Asian Services in Action summer language camp, and helped set up apartments for new arrivals through Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services. They also worked with young children at area daycares, played games with seniors at Crestmont Nursing Home, helped with landscaping at local seniors’ houses, made beautiful crafts to sell at The Lakewood Arts Festival, removed invasive species plants at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, grew fresh food in LEAF gardens to donate, and priced, sorted, and displayed thousands of items for our annual Clothing Drive.

One of the most exciting service sites was our return to the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland. Due to construction, Summer Service Camp did not make any visits to RMH last year. In the summer of 2013, we made 28 trips, for a total of 448 hours of service! Campers divided their time between doing chores inside and outside the house, and providing fun and recreation for kids who are guests in the house. House Volunteer Manager, Jennifer Sinisgalli, offered her heartfelt thoughts about H2O’s involvement with RMH Cleveland:  “H2O is a much appreciated, beloved, and longtime partner with the Ronald McDonald House. We have great admiration for this exceptional program that links youth with community service. What a great way to teach our children the importance of investing themselves into their communities! Our H2O partners are enthused and motivated to do a number of things for us, including cleaning and sanitizing toys, helping organize closets and storage spaces, making decorations for special events and holidays, and playing Wii, blowing soap bubbles, and ‘chalking’ sidewalk pictures with the children residing at the House. We are sincerely grateful to the City of Lakewood and H2O participants that so generously give their time and resources to not only us, but the many organizations and programs they assist.”

Mornings at Summer Service Camp are spent volunteering, and then campers share game time. This valuable part of camp rewards the morning of service, but also creates fun and bonding moments. Some of the afternoons were spent learning more about philanthropy and social issues. Cathy Welsch, Director of the Cleveland-based organization Kick-It, talked to campers about how playing kickball can raise money for children’s cancer research. They learned that this research is poorly-funded and desperately in need of updated treatments formulated specifically for children. The concept for Kick-It was originated by a 10-year old cancer patient who used his favorite game to motivate people to raise money. Campers had a penny war fundraiser, collecting $1,856.00 to donate to Kick-It. Their efforts received a boost from a “Championship Jar” collected by staff and given to the team who won each session’s kickball game.

The student leaders of Lakewood High School’s Dare2Care/Club Identity spoke to each session of camp about discrimination. Campers were given a series of thought-provoking presentations which were discussed in small groups. They were asked to identify with their own interests and personality qualities, and to reflect on the merits of all these identities. The overall message was to learn more about other people and to see the value in our differences.

In addition to our great speakers and service partners, H2O “Help to Others,” would like to thank some other individuals and groups who helped make Summer Service Camp possible. Thank you to our many, many adult volunteers who helped with driving, teaching, and supervising campers. They gave so much more than their time; they were role models, leaders, and educators. Thank you SO much to our sponsors, whose donations fund Camp. Without their generosity, we could not offer this wonderful opportunity to Lakewood kids at a reasonable cost. Finally, thank you to the City of Lakewood for supporting H2O as part of its Human Services, Division of Youth, and the Lakewood City Schools for their strong role in H2O’s successful summer. Molly, one of this year’s campers, summed up her experience so well: “Being here makes me feel like I am actually making and bringing hope, peace, joy, happiness, love, care and change to Lakewood.”

Thanks again to the partnerships that made this possible.

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Volume 9, Issue 18, Posted 1:37 PM, 09.05.2013