Wilsonville teenagers organize summer camp for underserved children
On Thursday, Aug. 11, the first annual STARS Camp was hosted for elementary students in Wilsonville.
The free-of-charge event, a brainchild of Wilsonville High School sophomores Elise Smith and Gabby Maoz, was intended to help residents with a day of free child care and allow children to have a "summer camp experience."
Smith and Maoz said they started the camp because they have always had a "soft spot" for children and wanted to make an impact in their community. The event also catered towards children who may otherwise not be able to attend a summer camp.
According to statistics from the National Center for Education, only about one in four children living in lower-income families attend summer camps, compared to the three in four children living in middle-to-higher-income families.
"We just wanted to do something that would have a big impact on the community and also help as many families as possible," said Smith.
The duo started planning the event during the school year and reached out to their vice principal, Nollie Strohmaier, for help in the beginning stages of planning. After they had a concrete idea of what they hoped to offer to the community, they pitched their ideas to the Parks and Recreation team — which agreed to partner with them.
"When Gabby and Elise came to us and asked if we could help them run a camp, we were thrilled that they had the drive and motivation to do such a thing," said Recreation Coordinator Erica Behler.
The Parks team donated the park spaces, food, drinks and games to the camp.
"We wanted to make sure they had everything so that supplies or a space to have the camp weren't a reason they had to turn away anyone," said Behler.
The camp was designed to give children the "summer camp experience" without families worrying about finances and to have a day off. The students also provided lunch and snacks to the kids.
"We decided to do the camp for parents to have a day where they didn't have to worry about giving their kids lunch or child care and just have a day to do things that they wouldn't otherwise be able to do while watching after the kids," said Smith.
Throughout the day, the sophomores led campers through various activities ranging from arts and crafts and sports to science experiments like an ecosystem in a bottle.
"We wanted to have a variety of options for different experiences for the kids … that way there was something for everyone," said Maoz. "We also wanted to have some things that kids could bring home and have in their rooms, like the wind chimes."
As her fellow campers raced around the open field beside her screaming and laughing, Dylan Durante sat at one of the picnic tables, making a windchime with pastel-colored beads hanging off a stick.
The incoming fifth grader at Lowrie Primary School concentrated on her craft, steadily stringing the plastic ovals in repetition through a piece of yarn — light purple, yellow, pastel pink, repeat.
"I liked playing volleyball earlier and now (I'm enjoying) making art....I'm making a windchime that I'm going to be put in my room by the window," she said.
Besides Parks and Recreation staff, Maoz and Smith gathered some classmates to volunteer their time with the kids.
Smith and Maoz plan to make the camp an annual event. Next year they hope to extend the camp to a week-long affair with a broader range of ages. When they graduate, the idea is to pass the baton off to another student to continue making a difference in their community.
"We hope to continue our camp in the future and to have STARS Camp leave an impact on the community in Wilsonville for as long as possible," said Smith.
As the day came to a close and parents began to arrive to collect their children, the sophomores received considerable positive feedback and gratitude from families and the campers.
"My favorite part was just seeing kids being kids and having fun," said Maoz.
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