That’s a wrap!
I spent the last week of The Center’s summer programming with Burke Presbyterian Church from Burke, VA and Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Dickeyville. Together we joined in to put on Golden Eagles camp. Each camp day was full of exciting activities diligently planned by a brilliant lead staff. We went to a CrossFit for kids class, tried our best to solve some escape room puzzles, took part in a neighborhood-wide scavenger hunt, played water games outside every day (!), tie-dyed socks, and, for the whole day on Friday, went to the beach! There was a perfect balance between unstructured play time and pre-planned activities that kept both campers and mentors really engaged.
There were a couple of special things about this week’s camp. First, this is the third year that folks from Burke have come back to participate in Golden Eagles camp. The youth from Burke and the youth at camp, mostly students from Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle, have watched each other grow up! This was my first time at this camp and, from a third party perspective, it was lovely to see them check in on each other and pick up the relationships and connections where they’d left off the previous year. Also, from a staffing position, it was so handy to have a bunch of experts around who already had an idea of how camp runs, what each kid is like and needs, and could clue me in on questions I had about what was coming next.
Just as Burke has made an intentional decision to return to Dickey Memorial year after year, the members at Dickey have known these kids since they were in kindergarten! That’s incredible. This year’s camp and celebration banquet on the last day of camp marked the 6th year of their connection to one another. Just like much of Baltimore, boundaries were created to separate the Dickeyville community from the surrounding communities, namely communities of color. While walking through Dickeyville on Sunday afternoon after church, one of the first days Burke folks were in town, Pastor Jennifer pointed out ways that Dickeyville was sending signals to surrounding neighborhoods that they’d prefer if they stayed in their place. One of the roads in Dickeyville abruptly ends before reaching an apartment complex and there are quite a few security company and ‘crime watch’ signs facing those folks’ communities. Dickey Memorial members have committed to getting to know their neighbors and, along with hosting two weeks of camp every summer, several members (known lovingly as The Matriarchy) go to Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle every Tuesday to have snacks, play games, work on homework, and just spend time together.
Each of the mentors from Burke were paired with one or two campers to spend extra time with during mentor time. I was really happy to discover that my mentees also love art. We spent some good time together making each other pictures. On one of the final days of camp, one of my mentees gave me a drawing of balloons surrounding a heart with my name inside. Of course, I couldn’t help but tear up. Trust that it has a special place on my fridge at home.
A final reflection from my week at Golden Eagles camp came to be with the help of a close friend of The Center, Tracy Watts. A documentary photographer out of Charlotte, NC, and generally incredible person, Tracy spent the whole week documenting Center camps and programming. On Thursday before heading out of town, she offered the kids at Golden Eagles Camp the opportunity to have their portraits taken. She encouraged them, if they were interested, to pick a place around the church to have their photos taken. Some kids were inclined and some not so much. One young woman who I’d been getting to know that week decided that she wanted her portrait taken but only if she could have me and two of the Burke mentors in the shot with her. Of course we obliged! She then led us through the fellowship hall, down the stairs, outside, through the undercroft and up the stairs to the sanctuary. As we walked through the sanctuary she led us up the couple of stairs in front of the altar. We encouraged her to access her artist-self and position us how she wanted. She centered us on the altar and asked us to hold hands. Tracy took our photos.
While this moment felt in some ways like goofy fun, it also felt profoundly sacred as it unfolded.
When given the opportunity to put herself anywhere in the church, she put herself, alongside friends, in the most conventionally adorned, holy part of the church. Right up front and center in the sanctuary.