One of the most successful programs in CCC’s history is about to launch its second year. By almost any standard, Young Leaders of Abilene (YLA) has been a hit!
YLA began about a year ago, with a grant from the the Ruth and Bill Burton Family Endowed Fund at the Community Foundation of Abilene, allowing us to develop a new summer program for the young people of our neighborhoods. The idea was to recruit middle-school and high school students, give them some training, and put them to work as “camp counselors,” for a week of day camp in an Abilene neighborhood. We came up with a theme – Caring in Action – and we went to work finding teenagers who could become our counselors.
We began talking with families from our various neighborhoods, with whom we had built relationships; from there, we branched out and talked with some of their friends who also were interested. We ended up with about 15 kids who would serve as camp counselors. Early last June, right after school was out, we met for a week at the North Park Friendship House, and started helping them become a team.
We did various activities to help them get to know one another; the kids also brainstormed about what kinds of snacks to serve the campers, what kinds of games to play, what kinds of craft projects to do. As much as possible, we wanted to promote and develop leadership within our team of counselors. We held a day of “practice camp,” and then, ready or not, it was time to start.
We conducted four weeks of day camps in different Abilene neighborhoods, where CCC had a presence – Stevenson, College Heights, Valley View, Holiday Hills. Sometimes we had good turnout, other times not as much as we hoped, but it was good to see our counselors stepping up and being the leaders for the camps – and role models for the younger ones. It was good for the elementary school kids to see their older sisters, brothers, cousins, neighbors – kids who looked like them, and that they knew – running this program, with guidance and help from the CCC coordinators. And it was good for the families in those neighborhoods to have something positive for their kids to do.
By the end of the summer, we were tired but happy with the results we had seen. In the year since then, YLA has continued to function, and most of the counselors from last summer are still active with the program.
We have been meeting about once a month – one month, the young leaders will meet at my house, to visit, hang out, eat, and plan a service project. Then the next month, we will meet in another neighborhood, to host an event for the kids & neighbors there, including a Fall Festival in Holiday Hills, a Christmas party in Stevenson, and a Valentine’s party at Cobb Park. In early May, we went back to Holiday Hills for a “Spring Fling,” in association with our friends from House of Faith.
So, what’s next? Our plans for this summer include growing the program to include five weeks of camp — thanks to another gift from the Ruth and Bill Burton Family Fund and the T & T Family Foundation at the Community Foundation of Abilene–and we’ve recruited some new counselors to join some “old hands” who are returning this year. Our schedule for this year is:
- Week 1 – Holiday Hills, June 13-16
- Week 2 – North Park, June 27-30
- Week 3 – College Heights, July 11-14
- Week 4 – Valley View, July 25-28
- Week 5 – Service Week, August 8-11 (various locations)
Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Maybe giving a few teenagers jobs as camp counselors won’t change the world; maybe holding a few weeks of day camp in different neighborhoods won’t either.
But maybe, it’s a start.