Centern Stories: Week 5 with Shelby

This past week the Centerns got a break from the hustle and bustle of Baltimore to stay in a quaint Annapolis beach bunkhouse (thanks to the awesome hospitality of some church friends). Our week in Annapolis was spent with our partners at First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis and STAIR (Start the Adventure in Reading) and our group from Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia. FPC Annapolis was kind enough to provide lodging for our group from Alexandria during their stay. We spent our mornings volunteering at the STAIR Summer Reader’s Theater camp at the Robinwood Community Center, one of ten of STAIR’s locations during the school year. The week was full of enthusiastic kids, all kinds of books, and plays about bugs, mummies, not-so-traditional fairytales, and very needy mice.

The week started with some reluctance from the campers and some awkward introductions. It is always interesting to go to a new place on day one and spend all day with people you’ve never met. However our group from Alexandria embraced the kids with open minds, ready smiles, and plenty of encouragement. By day two, they were old pros. It was such a gift to see the ways the kids opened their hearts to new volunteers while also meeting the more familiar volunteers with hugs and laughter. The Annapolis Police Department has volunteered with the STAIR summer camp for two years now and they know a lot of the kids from activities and mentoring throughout the year with various community programs.

Another consistent presence with the kids is Linda Barbour, who has been the Executive Director of the STAIR program in Annapolis for a few years now. She works year round to help kids across the city know that they are cared for and that reading can be FUN! Her passion for children and for theater makes for a great combination each summer during the Reader’s Theater camp. Linda (along with a team of great volunteers) turns books into plays for the kids to read, sets up tables of craft materials for the kids to get creative with props and costumes, and applauds the kids as they transform from nervous readers to budding actors in just one week. It was such an honor to get to join in such amazing work.

The youth and adults from Mount Vernon Presbyterian certainly thought so as well. Throughout the week they built relationships with kids - from the quiet ones to the rabble-rousers. These relationships were formative for both the youth and the children. The campers had consistent encouragement to help them improve their literacy and their confidence and the youth had the benefit of learning about kids from different backgrounds and perspectives than their own. The camp overall was a huge success, culminating in a performance for family and friends on Friday. Each of the actors and actresses beamed with pride as they read their lines and received their applause from the audience. The week went by quickly in flashes of smiles, laughter, singing, dancing, crafting, and reading. STAIR does some really good work in Annapolis and participating alongside the group from Mt. Vernon reminded me that what we teach at The Center is true: God really is at work in communities and neighborhoods. What a gift it is to be invited to take part.