COLUMBUS, Ohio – Gathered around the stage in the Westgate Community Recreation Center auditorium, a dozen children were asked to finish the sentence, “I can choose kindness by …”
Gracie Corbett, 9, wrote down several responses including “helping others” and “cuddling my mom”. She was supposed to choose one to make a bracelet with letter beads and string.
The children of Westgate are among some 900 children at Columbus Summer Camps who learn about local social issues and how they can help through the Kindness Corps, a program designed by Seeds of Caring, a nonprofit based on Columbus services. Brandy Jemczura, Founder and Executive Director of Seeds of Caring, said she found a need for a program that reaches kids where they are, who at this time of year are often their local summer camps. .
“We believe that every child deserves access to programs that teach them that they can make a difference, that they can be friends with anyone and that they can choose kindness in all situations. they are facing, ”Jemczura said.
Seeds of Caring has partnered with five organizations, including the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks, the Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services, St. Stephen’s Community House, the Daily Needs Assistance Community House, and the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center, to integrate six learning services in their summer camps, which run from early June to late August.
Liz Martin, Kindness Corps coordinator, said the classes focus on four basic community projects: creating gifts for the elderly in senior centers, packing bags of food for the food insecure. , give gifts to hospitalized children and offer welcome packages to recent immigrants and refugees. .
The first lesson teaches children the importance of kindness and empathy. In each lesson, children are introduced to the weekly topic with a letter from a member of the community explaining the problem and their needs.
During Westgate’s first Kindness Corps lesson, a counselor read a letter from Martin introducing the series to campers. Over the course of six weeks, they will learn three main points: “I can choose kindness”, “I can make a difference” and “I can be friends with anyone. “
“What I love about these letters is that they come from amazing people in our own community who share their knowledge,” said Martin. “It’s just neighbors down the street telling us what’s going on. “
Jemczura said the goal was to involve 300 children through the Kindness Corps. With a grant from the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department and raising over $ 8,000 through a Columbus Foundation fundraiser, the organization was able to purchase project materials for approximately 900 children aged 5 to 12 years old.
The full launch of the Kindness Corps follows a virtual pilot program at two Columbus recreation centers last summer. Malcolm Wilkes, deputy director of the Westgate Community Center, said Westgate has partnered with Seeds of Caring to run a similar program of weekly lessons and service projects. Because of its success, children at 15 community centers in Columbus will participate in the Kindness Corps program this summer.
Wilkes said the program was successful because it not only teaches children about community issues, but teaches them specific ways to solve them – something they might not get in their camp sessions. ‘summer usual.
“It allows them to be of service, but it also teaches them kindness and empathy,” Wilkes said. “And that’s something I think kids these days need more of.”
Corbett has decided that his bracelet should read “Cuddling Mom”. After a reporter tied the bracelet to her wrist, Corbett said she was delighted to show it to her parents when she got home.
“I should have put on ‘Hug mommy and daddy’,” Corbett said.
To make up for it, she said she would give her dad an extra hug when she got home.