Photo Credit: Marilyn Appleby
Kids have lunch as part of the Athens Housing Authority's annual Summer Food Service Program last year at the Nellie B neighborhood.
Sometimes, it's the smallest things that can seem so inspiring.
If you're reading this and you're the parent of a child older than 3, you're probably facing summer with a mixture of anticipation, both good and bad. Good, because it's a time to decompress, let the kids run wild and play with the hose in the yard. Maybe even get out of town. But bad because you know your child will be entering a new grade in school this fall, and your biggest fear is what might drip out of their brain this summer along with all that sweat.
I count myself among the lucky ones with a summer of camps lined up for my daughter. What if you can't afford anything "extra?" What if you're worried about just getting three meals a day on the table, never mind what kind of art projects your child might bring home?
Then, I find out about a network of volunteers, day camps, churches and other organizations that work with the Athens Housing Authority to help fill in these summertime gaps, and it makes me feel inspired. Because no matter what your income level, you want what's best for your kid. Period.
Take last summer in Nellie B Homes. Volunteers got together to run a summer day camp where kids played games, worked on reading and math skills and also had lunch. It's a safe, positive place for the kids, that keeps their minds engaged and their bodies fed at the same time. It's the lunch part of it that's instrumental, because, according to several nonprofits working to end childhood hunger, nearly two-thirds of Clarke County's kids qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year. If parents have a hard time affording more than $10 a week for school lunch, imagine the stress of summer meal planning.
The program can be found at day camps, community centers and churches around the county, including the Athens Latino Center, Bethel Church Homes, the Boys & Girls Clubs (Barrow County, Dearing Extension and Smilow campuses), Bright Beginnings Preschool, East Athens Community Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church West, First AME Church, Heaven Bound Ministries, Memorial Park, Mt. Pleasant Baptist, New Grove Church (Winterville), Oak Hill Apartments, Oasis Catolico Santa Rafaela, Rhema Christian Fellowship, Lay Park, Timothy Baptist Church, Walk By Faith Christian Fellowship Church, The Wiz Academy, YWCO Girls Club (Alps Road), Alpha & Omega Christian Childcare (Winterville) and all Athens Housing Authority community centers (Broadacres, Dogwood Park, Nellie B, Parkview, Rocksprings and Tanyard Creek). The program, now in its 24th year, serves not only kids participating in the program, but also any child who walks in for a lunch. Most sites operate May 28-July 19, with some exceptions, so check with your nearest location to be sure.
I know there are people in our community who scoff at the idea of giving out more "freebies," but seriously, you need to get over yourself. Try going an entire day without eating, maybe visit the library or go hang out on a playground on a hot, summer day, and then tell me how great you feel. And if your body is supposed to be growing and learning new things at the same time? Forget it. We're doing our entire community a disservice when we let kids skip a meal because their adults can't afford it, for whatever reason.
And now for some whiplash.
As a perk of living in a college town, we get to reap the benefits of high-quality summer camps offered by the University of Georgia. There are not a lot of options for parents of little ones, but for middle- and high-school students, it's a chance to delve deeper into topics that can help shape college and career decisions.
For example, programs at the State Botanical Garden and the Hugh Hodgson School of Music have summer camps for kids to investigate nature, marching band or twirling. The whiplash for me came from the list of camps at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education's Summer Academy, where a week of intensive study in unique topics such as fashion design, engineering or video game development starts at about $350 per week. With a price tag like that, I'm hoping that week will transfer into college credit hours (but I won't hold my breath).
If you're trying to prepare your student for life outside the nest, check out some programs offered through the Fanning Institute, where, for example, Clarke County students can apply to stay on campus for three days through the Clarke College Readiness program (it's free!), or the unique Leadership Sin Limites youth program, which attracts top Hispanic students for a week on campus ($325).
Whatever happened to ice cream trucks, climbing trees and swimming holes? I guess they're still around. These days, you have to squeeze them in between robotics and accelerated math programs. I just don't recommend doing it without some food in your stomach.