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After six years of summer day camps, SML Good Neighbors is going strong.
Russ Baskett, executive director and president, agrees with program director Beth Kline's suggestion of a more efficient way to organize forms for the upcoming Good Neighbors day camp.
Gavin Huff reads to volunteer Kay Carter and Madison Yencha reads to volunteer Mary Schoenberg during a July 1 reading buddy session for Bedford County second-graders at Good Neighbors day camp.
Second-grader Antwoine Harris reads a book to volunteer Kit Harahan July 1 at Good Neighbors day camp.
Reading buddy Kurt Schoenberg reads along with third-grader Payton Musgrove July 1.
The Roanoke Children's Theatre visits the Bedford County Good Neighbors day camp July 1 encouraging the elementary students to act like specific animals in a play.
Fourth-grader Ty Calhoun talks to intern Isaiah Day about the fort he made with sticks.
Intern Chloe Benner and Buddy Muse let the other children know it's time to come inside.
Camp director Shearer Rumsey hands out reading files of the children to volunteers. Rumsey said this is her 5th summer at the day camp.
Camp facilitator Carole Young cleans tables in the cafeteria after lunch.
Camp facilitator Carole Young sets out snacks for the children.
Intern Aisha Kamara chats with children as they wait to be sorted into groups by volunteers from Roanoke Children's Theatre.
Good Neighbor volunteer Jim Bennett reads with third-grader Domonic Crutchfield and volunteer Carol Patton reads with second-grader Corwyn Cappello at the Bedford County summer day camp.
Friday, August 2, 2013
Russ Baskett sits in a school cafeteria talking about the nonprofit he heads while the room buzzes with commotion and laughter.
The retired educator is president and executive director of SML Good Neighbors Inc., an organization whose mission is to provide for local children from families with limited resources through a free summer enrichment program.
The program offers two four-week camps — one for students from three Bedford County schools and another from three Franklin County schools. This summer, the program has enrolled about 150 students, all rising first- through sixth-graders. The nonprofit also sponsors a weekend backpack program that supplies food and a book for about 240 children during summer school.
Since Baskett and three other lake residents acted on what they saw as a need to reach out to underserved children in the area seven years ago, the program has grown considerably. This is the sixth year of the summer day camps.
“We had no idea how much work it would be,” said Baskett. “It feels good even though it’s tiring.”
Baskett has some help this summer. Beth Kline was hired in the spring as SML Good Neighbors’ first program director.
Baskett is training her to run the day-to-day program while he focuses on maintaining and increasing funding for SML Good Neighbors.
Because the program is free to the students, the expenses add up. Baskett said funding from many lake-area groups and individual donors has increased. The current budget is $130,000.
Nine college-age interns staff the summer camps, but the heart of the program is the volunteers, who help out with everything from one-on-one reading with the children to transporting meals to packing the backpacks.
Volunteer Director Sandy Kelso said there are about 200 volunteers; 160 are reading buddies.
“We are always looking for new volunteers,” said Kelso. “I think a lot of us feel very positive about being able to give back to the community.”
The giving has produced measurable results, according to Baskett. He provided data showing the program has helped participating students improve academically; about 90 percent of the students enrolled maintained or improved their reading skills over the summer. Using the San Diego Quick Assessment test, the nonprofit was able to do pre- and post-camp testing.
However the program’s goal of teaching values and how to be a good neighbor is not easily evaluated. Baskett said he has examples showing that the Good Neighbors values are making an impact.
A few years ago, an elementary school principal told Baskett that one student with anger issues had improved after returning from summer break. The student said Good Neighbors told her what she should do when she starts to get angry. The following summer, Baskett said, she was a model camper.
“She’s still in our camp,” he said. “So did we have a role? Probably.”
Kline said the values they try to get across include conflict resolution, respect for others and how to recognize feelings of anger or jealousy.
“There are a lot of challenges kids are faced with,” she said.
Students also learn how people in other parts of the world live and how they can make a difference.
Baskett said that even outside of religious practices, people with character and integrity practice values such as openness, honesty, fairness and civility.
“For me, the Good Neighbors values are common sense,” he said. “They should be the values taught by all world religions.”
And Baskett said he is not satisfied stopping at summer programs. He wants to start an after-school arts program during the school year. Also on his wish list is a location to house interns and an office.
In addition to the need for a permanent home, Good Neighbors has other challenges.
“Transportation is a big issue,” Baskett said. A grant has allowed Bedford parents to take their children to a location where they can be picked up by a bus, but in Franklin County, there is no grant.
The nonprofit offers gas cards to parents twice during the camp for families who need them.
Challenges aside, Baskett said the day camp has been successful because the students enjoy coming. Many return year after year, and some aren’t ready to leave when they age out of the program.
For that reason, a junior counselor program was started last summer by Tammie Foster, a second-grade teacher at Moneta Elementary . The seventh- and eighth-graders assist the interns.
“Our focus is different than traditional camps. It’s not really a camp. It’s kind of a hybrid between school program and a camp program,” Baskett said. “The children don’t know it’s like school because we make it fun.”
For more information about the nonprofit, visit smlgoodneighbors.org.
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