Helping kids revel in joys of summer

Sunday July 29, 2012

MOUNT WASHINGTON -- For many people, summer in the Berkshires is synonymous with youth summer camps. And thanks to a fundraising effort, a local group is hoping that will be the case for more families, regardless of their income.

RBC Wealth Management recently completed a $1,100 fundraiser to allow three kids from the Berkshire Hills Regional School District to attend the Y’s Camp Hi-Rock, located on 1,000 acres of Nature Conservancy property off East Road.

Sheela Clary, a former teacher in the district, helped spearhead the effort. She worked with the district to identify youths from Muddy Brook Elementary School who would benefit from the experience but would otherwise be unable to afford it.

The camp costs $1,400 for a two-week overnight stay, and the Y helped with financial assistance to make the youth’s stays a reality.

Funds were raised from outside groups as well, including Railroad Street Youth Project and a donation in honor of Construct, Inc.

"I’m a huge believer in the summer learning enrichment experience," said Clary, "to get you out of your home, get your perspective changed, give you confidence and give you challenges."

While this specific effort to bring local youths to the camp is new, Camp Hi-Rock receives donations from roughly 500 other individuals and organizations, including the Great Barrington Rotary Club, in order to provide financial assistance to more than 20 percent of the 1,000 campers. Providing assistance to anyone who qualifies is one the core values of the camp, and it allowed the Y to provide more than $200,000 in financial assistance this year, even though they only raised half that amount for the program, according to Jessica Speer-Holmes, executive di rector at Hi-Rock.

She said demand for financial assistance has grown dramatically since the financial collapse of 2008.

People from all walks of life come here, Speer-Holmes said, from locals to inner-city youths who have never been in the woods. She said finances aren’t an issue once campers get here, where everyone’s just wearing shorts and T-shirts and they’re all treated the same no matter how much their parents contributed to their stay.

For those from less fortunate homes, said Speer-Holmes, it gives them a chance to be inspired to build the same type of life goals as their more well-to-do counterparts.

"They’re exposed to all different kinds of people and they become very close in a short period of time," said Speer-Holmes, "and then they start to share the same kind of dreams."

That’s a sentiment echoed by Terrence W. Webb, branch director for RBC.

"It just opens their eyes to things they can experience down the road," said Webb.

Speer-Holmes also pointed to research on "summer learning loss," which says that youths who don’t have any or as much physical and mental activity in the summers -- which can be the case for poorer children -- are behind their classmates when they return to school in the fall. Coming to the camp where there is plenty of activity and specific reading times every day, can help bridge that gap, she said.

Clary said she hopes to expand the fundraising effort next year and to do more to in raising awareness that these camps may be feasible even for those who don’t receive those specific funds.

"The sky’s the limit," said Clary. "Fundraising is really hard right now, but it seems to me like it’s a pretty clear need."


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