Photo above: The campers really enjoyed making cool stuff during arts and crafts – just like all kids their age.
By Betsy Hinderliter
The YMCA is well-known for its summer camps, and the Wardle Family YMCA of Beaufort County is no exception.
During this year’s 11-week summer camp program, over 700 children ages 3 to 13 participated in a variety of stimulating educational sessions and fun summer camp activities.
In addition, the YMCA, along with a grant from the SC Department of Education, 100 Women Who Care Beaufort, and many local partner organizations provided 100 children from visiting migrant families a five-week summer camp experience.
According to Kaylin Garst, YMCA executive director, issues facing the youth participating in this program include constant movement to new farms and exposure to pesticides and herbicides.
“The lack of educational continuity due to the nature of migrant work, presents a real challenge for these kids and their families. One little boy in camp moved 12 times in just six months,” Garst said. “Sometimes parents will not enroll their children in a new school due to the limited time they are in one location.
“Migrant students experience some of the highest dropout rates in the United States today. Our program addresses this by incorporating an educational focus with five certified bilingual teachers plus eight part-time staff spending at least four hours per day with the campers teaching math and literacy. Camp also included daily visits to the St. Helena Island branch of the Beaufort County public library.”
Lack of health and dental care and make-shift day care facilities that may have no adult supervision are also obstacles for these youth.
“Our campers were provided with health and dental checks by the Ronald McDonald Mobile Wellness Bus and Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services Inc.,” said Garst. “They also received hygiene packs donated by volunteers from First Presbyterian Beaufort and The Link churches. We are so grateful for their contribution.”
This year’s migrant education camp took place at St. Helena Elementary School.
In addition to the educational components of the camp, participants took part in various learning activities from the Serpentarium, Beaufort Conservation, the Center for Birds Of Prey, Beaufort MMA and delighted in field trips including bowling and the movie theater.
Campers were also furnished with journals and school supplies which allowed them to practice their writing skills and many campers embellished their journals with original artwork.
Again this year YMCA members and local churches donated swim suits and towels as these youth had no swim gear.
Melissale Rivera, Migrant Education Program director, could see the excitement in the campers’ faces as they received their own personal box of school supplies, as most would not have been able to afford them otherwise.
Rivera said, “Many of the children wanted to open their box right away, just to look at the school supplies. We are very happy to give these supplies to the campers and help ease the burden on their parents. Each box contained supplies geared towards a specific grade level so that the students would have the proper school supplies. One particular child exclaimed, ‘OOH! Look there’s scissors and paper!’
“It was so heartwarming to see how genuinely grateful and excited they were about something as simple as school supplies – things that many other children might take for granted.”
Food is also a daily concern for these families.
“Our campers were provided with three meals a day and supplied on weekends with grocery bags of fresh and pantry items provided by BackPack Buddies, a program of the Lowcountry Food Bank. You can see that individuals and organizations within our community really pulled together, collaborating to make this camp a success! We are so grateful for all the support – financial, in-kind donations and volunteer time. It would not happen without it,” Garst added.
This year, the Migrant Education Camp added a new component, the OSY (Out of School Youth) Program. Most of these students are between ages 17 to 21 and have dropped out of school to perform farm work to help support their families.
The purpose of the OSY program is to offer these migrant students with the opportunity to learn basic English conversation and math skills several nights a week for the four to six weeks they are working in the local fields picking tomatoes or watermelons. It is worth noting that the students normally put in a 10-hour day picking tomatoes before learning an hours’ lesson on English conversation.
The students are also taught basic life skills such as the importance of proper hydration and nutrition, the dangers of exposure to pesticides, and where they can find additional services in the community, if needed. By the middle of June, the Y staff had identified 64 students of school age who qualified to enroll in the OSY Program.
Joe Taylor, program recruiter and OSY director said, “In addition to attending classes in the camp, OSY students are afforded to practice their language skills by visiting a Walmart store with the OSY staff. Students were encouraged to talk to sales clerks, to ask questions about pricing, and to do product comparison to find the best deals both financially and nutritionally.”
Plans for a 2018 summer migrant education camp have not been confirmed yet, but Garst is hopeful that the Y can once again spearhead this program. “This camp can make a world of difference to these kids and their families so our plan is to continue as long as we have the funding and the support of our community partners,” she added.
Betsy Hinderliter is the YMCA marketing & development director.