Wherever they are, caring parents want their kids to have fun and make memories during the summer, just as they seek opportunities for their kids to challenge themselves and continue developing their minds. For the families of 28 children aged 5½ to 12 who live in and near Chester, Camp Phoenix has helped realize those hopes.
Headquarters for the camp is Chester Eastside Inc.’s venerable (but air conditioned!) stone building at 9th and Madison Streets, shared with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Reverend Zuline Wilkinson is both executive director of Chester Eastside and host of Camp Phoenix (“soaring to new horizons”) which though newly named, has been in operation for many years as Chester Eastside Summer Enrichment.
“These children are here for classes, skills workshops, socialization, and fun in a full day program,” Reverend Z says. Each child takes each class in an age cohort; each group has two counselors and a volunteer to assist teachers and campers. It’s a substantial staff, and well qualified. Longtime Chester-Upland teacher Kathryn Redd is camp director. With a bachelor’s degree in textiles and 16 credits towards a Master’s in Education, she said, “I came here as the art teacher, and I have been director for 12 years.”
The faculty includes other accomplished educators like Ms. Redd. Lincoln University professor Dr. Patricia West teaches reading. Dr. Barbara Ley of the University of Delaware teaches a weekly yoga course. Veteran math teacher Calvin Laws presides over math bingo and other brain games. Artist Desire Grover also teaches children and adults at the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, and dance instruction is by teachers from Christina Cultural Arts Center in Wilmington. “We do emphasize culture and art, and I’d love to get a musician in,” Ms. Redd said, suggesting that prospective volunteers for next year should get in touch with her through Chester Eastside.
It’s summer, and recreation is on the schedule, too. The campers visit the Boys and Girls Club gym in Chester on Tuesdays, and splash and swim at the Swarthmore Swim Club on Wednesday mornings.
Ms. Redd said that students who age out at 12 and volunteer for two years can then apply to return as paid junior counselors. “Then, if they are enrolled in a post-secondary school they can be student counselors.” Among camp and Chester Eastside after school program alumni working as counselors at Camp Phoenix this year are Edward Nelson, now an undergraduate at Morehouse College, and Shod’Deah Kelly, a sports management major at Keystone College. Lessons from Chester Eastside and the camp prove helpful in adulthood, they said.
Edward said, “For me, it’s time management skills. I always think of Ms. Redd saying ‘You’ve got to get your work done before you can play.’ In college there are a lot of parties and other temptations, but my approach is still focused.”
Shod’Deah credits the camp with helping her relate to others, even in adverse conditions. “The lessons are in the way I respond to adults with an attitude … and the way I‘ve learned to get along with kids, even when they don’t want to get along.”
Reverend Z says that “Our goals for this year included an interpersonal goal — getting along — learning to have relationships with others.” To that end, Ms. Redd starts each day leading the campers in a pledge to one another. “I think the most important part of that is ‘I will respect myself and others by the way I speak and behave, and act in such a way that I will be proud of myself, and others will be proud of me too.’ It gives them some food for thought that carries them through the day.”
The summer session is just finishing up for Camp Phoenix. Reverend Z said, “If we get additional funding, we will try to extend it through August in future years. Parents need a place for their children for the whole summer.” Information on Camp Phoenix and other programs of Chester Eastside is at chestereastside.org and (610) 872-4812.