Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church (USA) on the westside of Baltimore has been working with Dickey Elementary/Middle School up the hill for years, doing an after school program called “Golden Eagles.” The Golden Eagles are a group of mostly 5th and 6th graders a few who have been coming since they were in 3rd grade when a group of retired church members began going to the school, to read with the children. This program morphed into the after school program and is now one of the first summer camps and programming with The Center has available for visiting groups. I began working with the after school program at the start of 2019, while Pastor Jennifer was on maternity leave. The Golden Eagles program has ebbed and flowed in the number of students because the school has seen large turnover as students leave for better schooling, parents find safer neighborhoods and even better job opportunities. This turnover is one of the many layers that neighborhoods face throughout Baltimore. Even with supportive administration (this had to be rebuilt recently) there is still opportunities that are needed and lacking to reach a significant number of students. The Golden Eagles program can host about 12 students after school and up to 20 for summer camp.
For kids the start of summer begins by counting down the hours to the last day of school, and counting down the hours on that day until the bell rings. For Baltimore students, the last days of school were extended due to winter weather emergencies at the start of 2019! So, it meant mid-course changes in how camp looks and functions for the week. The Center hosted a High School Robotics team, Camelot Robotics, from the tri-city area near Durham, NC to work with the Golden Eagles program at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church (USA). The Robotics team brought their program ideas, energy and excitement to about 15 Golden Eagle students at camp. The school day ended, and camp began with water games to cool off after the walk from the school to the church in the hot June sun. On the first day we talked about the stark contrast of Dickeyville the historic town and community today, against the neighboring apartment complex above it. The boundaries marked by small signs, the road ending, and a small wooden fence that doesn’t stretch completely across the area it is dividing. By the end of the week both the Robotics team and the Golden Eagles were acting like old friends, even distant siblings.
What I will remember from this week is the moment I attended the end of the year basketball awards program after school with Zachary Ireland, a youth from the Camelot Robotics Team. Three of the Golden Eagles were being recognized for their performance on the team, two this year and one from last season since the awards program was ended due to funding and other challenges. We sat in the non-air conditioned gym at desks and chairs sized appropriately for elementary and middle school students. There were balloons left over from a previous award event trying to stay inflated. The Coach was setting up and yelling that the boys shooting hoops didn’t mess up his display before the program got started. There was organized chaos of students in and out of the gym grateful to be released from classes, but resistant to leaving the school grounds and to end conversations with friends. Some parents and siblings of the students being recognized were there and beginning to arrive. Coach finally set out the awards, and the food, and called for those playing to put the basketballs away and to sit down. A few more seconds to arrange this and that and the program began, us across the court watching this tailor-made fanfare come together. I offered to help hand out food, but was invited to relax and enjoy. Zachary and I participated like proud parents or siblings to the students. We cheered and took pictures along with a few others there to celebrate the students. It was a moment I pointed out later that tells the heart of a community. We were not outsiders, the camp leaders waiting for the program to end to take our students to camp; we were a part of the community. We were invited to be just like everyone else around us, and it gave us time to talk and deepen our understanding about each other and the school where the students learn and play. It was a twist to the afternoon that no one could have planned for and the appreciation the students expressed in us being there at the end of camp days later is priceless.