"I really like the camp," said Ausha who's been attending the camp since it originated four years ago. "I enjoy all of the activities we do. It's really fun."
Safe Haven Summer Camp runs from July 7-Aug. 15 at the Bowden Center and the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Centers in Charleston and East Prairie. Kindergarten through fourth grades meet daily from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and fifth through eighth graders meet from 1-4 p.m.
"The camp is structured into four basic parts," noted camp director Lester Gillespie. "They are arts, life skills, recreation, cooking and education."
After being funded for two years under drug elimination grants, the camp branched out and found a headquarters in Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center. Now the program is known as Safe Haven Summer Camp.
Over the past two weeks, children at the camp have made African pillows and figurines, name bracelets, scrapbooks, a Kwanzaa flag and many other items.
"I like it here because it's fun and educational," said Kareisha Sinks, 11. "Right now we're making a pinata in activities."
Perhaps the best part of the summer camp in the eyes of the children is swimming and field trips, Gillespie said. "This year students can attend the Sikeston YMCA as well as the Charleston Public Pools," Gillespie said. "So far field trips have included a tour of Dairy Queen and a local newspaper. Several guest speakers are scheduled to talk about everything from paper-making to the effects of drugs and violence."
Nearly 156 children are enrolled in the summer camp with an average daily attendance of 125, Gillespie said. In addition to the summer camp in Charleston, the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center also has a summer camp in East Prairie directed by Jeanice Griffin, with approximately 40 children attending.
Gillespie noted the summer camp keeps children busy and decreases their chances of getting into trouble.
"There's two parts to this camp," Gillespie said. "It gives the youth the opportunity to come and socialize, and it's a place for them to feel safe."
Magic Valentino Wills will be holding a week-long basketball camp the first week of August. Based on good behavior record, 20 students will be selected to attend a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game July 26 in St. Louis.
At the end of the camp, a banquet and showcase are held. Children display their talents by singing or putting on skits at the Newman Drinkwater Auditorium.
"Organized activities help make organized lives," said Martha Ellen Black, executive director of Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center. "Summer camp does this for the children, and it's great they're having fun."
Felecia Anderson, a youth at-risk specialist employed by Lincoln University, conducts "Teen Talk" daily at the Safe Haven Summer Camp.
"They love it," Anderson said about Teen Talk. "It's geared for them so whatever topics they want to discuss, we will." Along with Clementine Strayhorn, Parent Program coordinator, of Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center, Anderson organizes several programs of the camp. These programs include Strengthening Families, as well as classes on abuse and neglects and ways to prevent bullying. Parenting meetings are also held as part of the camp.
Topics discussed with the older children are domestic violence, teen pregnancy, drug and substance abuse, kids whose parents use drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, statutory rape and even Shaken Baby Syndrome.
"It surprised me about how interested they were about Shaken Baby Syndrome," noted Strayhorn. "A lot of them babysit and they didn't know the harmful effects of shaking a baby."
Gillespie talked about the collaborative effort it takes to make Safe Haven Summer Camp. The program is implemented by Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center and the Charleston Housing Authority is also important, he said. They allow the use of their facilities, supplies and provide funding, he explained, adding the program is also made possible by funding made available through a federal grant and the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
"I think it's great that we have such a good thing to be proud of right here in Charleston," Gillespie said. "Drugs and violent crimes cast a dark shadow on a community's reputation and it's unfortunate that what a few people do is what usually makes the news. So it's important we highlight the upbeat things like the summer camp."