Feed Lucas County Children planning free summer campWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
AmeriCorps VISTA worker Khalfani Rice loved summer camp as a child — so much so that he wants to bring that experience to 600 Lucas County children at no cost.
Rice found the missing piece to his dream in Tony Siebeneck, executive director of Feed Lucas County Children (FLCC), a nonprofit that provides hungry children with nutritional meals.
“For me, this is kinda a personal thing. This is something I wanted to do since I started going to camp. When I found Tony, he was definitely growing the same idea,” said Rice, who attended Camp Big Silver as a kid. He received his degree in recreation education from Bowling Green State University.
The free Lucas County Kids Camp is slated to run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 11 to Aug. 16 at Knights Academy and Aurora Gonzalez Center. Rice and Siebeneck hope to draw in 600 area children from first to sixth grades. So far, about 120 children have signed up. Anyone is welcome, but the camp is targeting children who live near the sites.
“It’s awesome when [children] can get some good leadership, some good fun, build some self-esteem; these are the main things that kids may not have a chance/privilege to receive. The word is out, so if you want to come to the camp, you can come, but mainly we’re thinking the kids in the area will show up,” Rice said. Rice and Siebeneck believe that the program could be duplicated throughout the area to help even more kids in the future.
Rice approached a master’s class in social work at the University of Toledo for help. The class decided to form committees to help organize the camp as part of a project.
“It’s really important to keep the kids off the street in the summer and keep them occupied. A lot of kids don’t get healthy, hearty meals during the summer so this is something that’s gonna be really good for them,” said Emily Stanley, chair of the finance committee.
Part of the reason for the camp is the cutbacks on pools and recreation in Toledo. “In Toledo, everyone’s running around with their heads cut off trying to figure out what to do with the kids this summer,” Siebeneck said.
“You look at recent crimes and violence that happened here in the city, and there’s definitely a need for some kind of programming,” Rice added.
The camp will also provide two meals a day, and Siebeneck plans to serve the same type of healthy fare he does through Feed Lucas County Children, which has fed up to 7,200 in one day.
Physical activity is another important camp component. “Kids’ eating habits with McDonald’s cheeseburgers only being $1, that’s where the main diet is coming from now; it’s fast food. Even the video game or gamer generation we’re going through now, which is OK, a lot of kids aren’t receiving any exercise or, honestly, sunlight that you should receive as a youth,” Rice said.
The fact that the camp is free is also crucial. Siebeneck said about 25,000 area children live at or below the poverty level.
“If it’s $5 to get in and [children] don’t have $5, it’s horrible. If it’s free, come in and have a good time,” Rice said.
The camp is also working with educators to develop a curriculum for the camp, Siebeneck said.
“Everybody comes to us for the food, but we know it’s not just the food; it’s the education, it’s the package deal,” he added. “Kids learn by activity. Even if they don’t think they’re learning something, they are.”
Some potential activities include keeping up a community garden and making birdhouses in addition to physical exercise.
These activities breed confidence, Siebeneck said. “You’re telling me these kids aren’t going to be pumped up because someone showed them how to build a birdhouse? They’re gonna go home with their little chests puffed out.”
Still the camp needs about $13,000 to fund itself. Donations of sporting equipment, school, gardening and arts supplies are also accepted, Stanley said.
Some groups are already helping out. St. John’s Jesuit High School and St. Francis De Sales High School students are donating sporting equipment to the camp.
“I’m kinda excited that we got the younger people involved,” said Gary Zarembski, who volunteers with FLCC on the business side.
“The thing that I loved about it is there was no resistance. They said, ‘Yeah, we can do that, that’s a good thing,’” he said.
Time and effort will also be accepted, Siebeneck said, who added that he plans to get parents involved. So far, about 35 people have agreed to volunteer, but Siebeneck said more adults are needed.
“You’re bringing in your own passion and interests to help the kids; now we’re talking,” Zarembski said.
The camp will give kids a chance get away from some of the pressures in their modern lives, Rice said.
“The world and society, what it does to kids, is it doesn’t allow them to be kids. When you have an experience where you can actually be at a camp, you have an opportunity where you can return to being a kid again and just enjoy life for a moment,” he said.
Donations can be sent to Siebeneck, P.O. Box 9363, Toledo, 43697-9363. For more information or to sign your child up, call (419) 260-9265.
Tags: Brigitta Burks, Emily Stanley, Feed Lucas County Children, Gary Zarembski, Khalfani Rice, Lucas County Kids Camp, St. Francis De Sales High School, St. John’s Jesuit High School, Tony Siebeneck, University of Toledo