August 07, 2007

'Camp Evergreen' keeps kids busy during summer

by Eric Welch


CARBONDALE, Ill. — While many kids spend the summer inside playing video games, children whose families live at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Evergreen Terrace apartment complex have been keeping busy at Camp Evergreen.

In a room full of bright colors, games and books, several children in first grade and up participate in "Earth Safari Week". Jamie Corr, assistant program director, said the students learned about the Earth and how to take care of the environment in practical ways, such as recycling and eating vegetables from the Evergreen Terrace garden.

Each week of the summer has a theme with projects, games and a little bit of practical learning experience. "We just had a cooking class where a woman from the extension office came and taught the kids how to cook for a few days," Corr said.

In the past few months, the campers have "strutted their stuff" at "Evergreen Idol," cooled off during "Wet and Wild Week" and experienced different cultures. Corr said that the children have fun while learning life skills, such as sportsmanship, leadership and safety, instead of simply sitting at home while their parents go to class.

The campers don't learn these skills from a lecture or classroom format, however, but from one-on-one interaction with the student-workers and volunteers who teach them the intangible lessons of life. The staff and volunteers are mostly education or recreation majors and many are also SIUC athletes.

"I think the kids enjoy having football players and women's basketball players come out and see that they're real people too," said Stephanie Schaefer, Camp Evergreen's administrative assistant.

While some of the football players may dwarf the campers in stature, they have found common ground with the children and helped each other build character over the summer. "It's just really cool getting to know them," said Saluki offensive tackle Kevin Green. "It's a learning experience."

Finding joy in working with the children is a common thread among the staff.

"I'm still here because I love it; it's so rewarding," said Corr, who has been running the camp for more than 20 years. Many of the relationships made this summer will continue as most volunteers and student-workers will help with the Evergreen after-school program in the fall.

With devoted staff and volunteers, the camp creates an atmosphere that is safe and encouraging for the families of Evergreen Terrace. "I love seeing the kids smile and able to act goofy without being talked about or picked on," Schaefer said. "This is a place where they can come and be themselves."