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New city program sends kids to camp in the Poconos

CAMP Philly will send 200 children from underserved communities to Camp Speers YMCA.

Camp Philly
Darryl Murphy

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Two hundred local kids will get a break from the city and an experience in the great outdoors, thanks to CAMP Philly, a partnership between Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Camp Speers YMCA in the Poconos.

Mayor Kenney, city officials, and public and private partners announced the launch of the new program Tuesday at City Hall. The program will provide an opportunity for the children, ages 9-11, to spend a week at the Poconos camp.

“It is crucial for young people to have the opportunity to experience the beauty and serenity of nature outside the confines of the city,” said Kenney. “I know that this extraordinary opportunity will expand their minds and inspire them in immeasurable ways.”

The program will begin Aug. 13 and will run in two weeklong sessions. With 1,100 acres of campground, including a 36-acre lake and a 400-acre wildlife preserve, the camp offers activities including archery, horseback riding, and swimming.

Damon, an 11-year-old from West Oak Lane who was selected for the program, said he usually plays video games at home but he wants to learn archery and horseback riding.

“I want to go to camp to try new things and go to new places,” he said.

A week at Camp Speers costs around $1,000 per person, but CAMP Philly received a discount of about $300 per child and raised $150,000 to cover the rest, with contributions from community partners, business leaders, and individual donors.

Those supporting CAMP Philly include Bank of America, the Mayor’s Fund, and the Tuttleman Foundation.

CAMP Philly’s outreach targeted children enrolled in recreation centers in underserved communities. Instead of making it public, organizers contacted leaders from 35 recreation centers and asked them to select children they felt would benefit from the experience.

“It gives them an opportunity as rec leaders to really shine a light on certain kids they work with and give them this opportunity," said Kathryn Ott Lovell, the city’s commissioner of parks and recreation. “So, they were thrilled to be able to do that.”

James Dever Jr., a Bank of America executive, said contributing to the program was a “no-brainer.”

“To partner with the city and the YMCA to bring some of the young people to an experience that they otherwise wouldn’t have is invaluable,” he said.

Teresa Berry-Lewis, a parent leader at the Kingsessing Recreation Center whose daughter Tamika Lewis was selected, said she is nervous about the trip. Her daughter hasn’t been away from her for more than a couple days, she said.

“It’s a week. It will be all right, though, and the experience that she’ll get – you can’t take that away.”

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