Each year, ACA’s Eleanor P. Eells Award for Program Excellence recognizes camps that embody the award’s namesake by creating exceptional programming and developing effective, creative responses to the needs of people and society through the camp experience. We celebrate the 2014 winners, as well as the first Eleanor Eells Award-winner for Excellence in Research in Practice. They all represent outstanding examples of programs tailored to unlock the potential of their campers, to empower under-resourced youth to throw new doors of possibility wide open, and to construct a foundation of self-esteem and belief in themselves on which they can build a bright future.
A Broader Way
Mission: Dedicated to offering girls from urban communities an outlet for self-expression and creativity through arts-centered programs.
Location: Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and New York City
Campers perved per year: Currently 60
The A BroaderWay Foundation (ABW) was created in 2010 by actors Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs, both of whom saw the value in using the performing arts to help urban girls who might not otherwise have the resources to find their voices, both on stage and beyond. The emphasis is on building self-esteem, developing leadership quali-ties, and striving for personal and social achievement.
“We are often asked, ‘Do I have to be talented or already be a performer to participate?’ Absolutely not,” said Kristin Quintano, associate director. “If they have an interest or the desire to learn more, they are welcome.”
“Taking a bunch of really beautiful, independent, strong, intelligent urban girls and giving them an opportunity to experience unity, camaraderie, friendship, and sensitivity through the arts is really inspiring,” said Diggs.
Camp BroaderWay itself is a sleep-away program that takes place at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. There the campers experi-ence traditional camp activities including swimming, rock climbing, and campfires, in addition to stage, dance, and voice fundamentals. Exciting elective choices are also on offer to help the girls explore other potential areas of interest, including painting, sign language, storyboard, spoken word, acting, choreography, photography, Playbill, digital scrapbook, and sculpting. All Camp BroaderWay classes are taught by acclaimed Broadway professionals and Simon’s Rock faculty members, who are experts in their fields.
The two-week camp program is for sixth through tenth graders. For those beginning in sixth grade, “We make a four-year com-mitment to our campers; they’re with us for four summers,” Quintano said. “We now also have a counselor-in-training (CIT) program, for which they have to reapply.
“During their time at camp, the girls put together a performance, and on the last day they perform that show in New York City for their friends and families,” said Quintano. The performance is a collabora-tion between campers and staff showcasing choreography, acting scenes, and the girls’ own poetry and essays. “It’s really exciting for the kids.”
The camp family extends beyond the two weeks in the summertime too. ABW staff reunites with its campers at least four times during the school year. During their first reunion they get to watch a recording of their camp finale performance. They generally get to see a Broadway perfor-mance each year, and other reunions center on recreational fun such as bowling. The focus of ABW is to empower its campers to let their inner light shine.
Said Menzel, for whom this has been a longstanding dream come true: “You need to take that thing that you’re most scared of in yourself and realize how beautiful it is and embrace it and explore it, because that unusual thing is probably the thing that will set you apart in this world and make people pay attention to you.”
Crossroads for Kids
Mission: To inspire youth living in at-risk environments to unlock their potential and positively impact the world.
Location: Eastern Massachusetts.
Campers served per year: 1000
Crossroads for Kids aims to be a consis-tent and reliable support and center of development for a population of youth in Eastern Massachusetts who are used to the instability that so often comes with economic hardship — from moving to new schools to new foster homes and all the ups and downs in between. The Crossroads for Kids model blends the life-changing effects of a summer camp experience with year-round, multiyear, youth development programming that connects participants with caring people in the community who can help open their eyes to a world of possi-bilities as they march toward adulthood.
“We have instructional swim lessons, archery, and all those things [at our summer camp], but we put a lot of emphasis on relationship building and trust,” said Joanne Fay, vice president of programming. “That’s one of our primary goals.”
About 50 percent of Crossroads’ kids come through word of mouth and the other half through partnerships with schools and other organizations. Most of them come from homes that fall below the poverty line. And while some campers are with Crossroads for Kids for only one summer, many return yearly and participate in ac-tivities offered throughout the school year that focus on leadership, social awareness, college/career, and community action. Some of those activities include:
- A week-long college tour around New England
- Trips to law firms, restaurants, etc., to learn about various careers from profes-sionals in the field.
- A community service road trip to teach the importance of giving back to the community
“We also want to help the kids take healthy risks,” Fay said, “and to know you have to take those risks in order to change."
“What we have spent a lot of time and focus on is intentional programming and making sure we’re always measuring and not being afraid to look at what the feed-back is telling us,” Fay said. “We always want to make sure we’re doing the best job possible.”
Among Crossroads for Kids’ many success stories is Ludy, who said, “Today, I am college-bound because Crossroads staff members took the time to nurture me. I’m earning good grades, helping out at home, and able to break free from the cycle of pov-erty and violence back home. I am prepared for college and know that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. I have the confi-dence to define for myself what’s ‘cool’ and what’s important; Crossroads gave me the gift of self-assuredness, and that is what has truly changed my life.
“Because of my Crossroads mentors, today I am ready to change the world — they saw my potential before I did.”
Equipping under-resourced kids to re-alize their potential and to pursue dreams they might not dared dream before is at the heart of Crossroads for Kids programming. At the end of the day, “I hope they feel like the skills we can give them will help them be whatever they want — if that means being a teacher, an astronaut, or running a nail salon — that we’re giving them the skills to see that anything in the world is possible,” said Fay.
The Harold Robinson Foundation — Camp Ubuntu
Mission: To provide funding and resources to end Los Angeles's less-fortunate chuldren to camp in a safe and nurturing environment while working towards building communities through communication and support for schools and families.
Location: Los Angeles
Campers served per year: 2,5000
When the Harold Robinson Foundation was launched five years ago, those involved just wanted to bring as many kids as possible from Los Angeles’s inner city to camp.
“Our model was to go into the inner city and invite a whole school’s fifth grade class of kids up to camp, usually about 100 kids,” said David Moss, Harold Robinson Foundation co-founder and president. “And we included 25 parents, typically 12 males and 12 females, if possible, and 12 staff members from the school.”
In effect, they were bringing a slice of that community to sleep-away camp, the first time for many of the participants, including the adults, to leave their com-munity at all.
“We realized we were doing much more than just bringing kids to camp,” Moss said. “We were building community where it was really broken and lacking — bringing parents together who don’t otherwise talk to each other. It breaks down barriers and causes people to step out of their comfort zone and talk to each other and go home with another perspective.
“Now we use camp as a tool for bigger and better things — to break down the barriers of rival gangs, to show youth the love and compassion they may not get at home,” said Moss.
And they expanded their program with Camp Ubuntu. Ubuntu, a South African philosophy that translates to “I am be-cause we are” seemed the perfect word to embody the core of the Harold Robinson Foundation and its desire to give hope and encourage dreams, respect, and unity. “Through Camp Ubuntu children learn that we must rely on and support each other in order to ensure success as an individual, as a family, and as a community.”
Now in its second year, Camp Ubuntu is a day camp located at a middle school in the heart of Watts (one of the most underprivileged areas in Los Angeles), and the center point between four housing projects — four separate neighborhoods — each home to a rival gang. The camp at-tracts kids from all four neighborhoods and has become a tool to teach healthy communication, team building, and other unifying skills.
Programming also includes parenting workshops, a partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, which sends officers to interact with campers, and working with former professional athletes, musicians, and Los Angeles Film School to provide enrichment opportunities for the kids, among other activities.
“We’re developing relationships with the kids that they just don’t get to develop otherwise because they don’t have good leaders, role models, and mentors to guide them. The staff is really great about show-ing the campers a lot of love,” said Moss.
Ramapo for Children
- A residential transition-to-independence program for young adults with special needs
- Hosting nearly 12,000 participants in year- round community-building retreats
- Training and professional development to over 15,000 educators and families throughout the Northeast, providing a tool-box of skills and strategies for supporting children who face a gamut of challenges