Back in 2007 Mary Julian got a letter from a New York City school student named Jysiah. He was thanking her for her support of the City’s Inner-City Scholarship Fund, of which he was a beneficiary.
By Bill Lawyer
Back in 2007 Mary Julian got a letter from a New York City school student named Jysiah. He was thanking her for her support of the City’s Inner-City Scholarship Fund, of which he was a beneficiary. The organization raises money to help pay tuitions at parochial schools.
In the letter, Jysiah mentioned that he was spending his summer vacation in an apartment with his single mom, and he wished he could be part of some camp program.
That got Julian thinking. Because she was actively involved with the Rye Nature Center, she thought how great it would be if Jysiah and children like him could participate in the center’s summer camp program.
She spoke with Nature Center staff and a close friend who has been a philanthropist for many years. They determined that they could offer a week of day camp for up to 50 children at a cost of $300 each. Julian and her friend decided to reach out to Rye residents who weren’t already supporting the Nature Center. In very short order, they raised the $15,000 with money to spare for extras.
The program began in the summer of 2008 with 50 children. The ICSF staff contacted the 92 parochial schools participating in their program, to see which might be interested. The principals of two schools responded immediately, and they agreed to handle the selection process, busing, and chaperoning by teachers from the schools.
The Nature Center cut back on its eight-week summer camp by one week, so that the last week would be reserved for the scholarship campers. These kids got the “best of” activities of the seven-week curriculum.
The program was so successful that they decided to offer it again the next year, with equally good results. In 2010, they upped the participation level to 100 students, with two groups of 25 coming the first week, and two more, from two other schools, the second.
The Nature Center board and staff organized an annual fund-raising event to recruit sponsors for the additional 50 children. The contributions exceeded their goal. And so, in 2012, the project is still going strong. They can handle up to 106 participants, and they have been able to put funding toward enrichment activities, such as bringing in a falconer to give kids an “up close and personal” look at birds of prey.
Each weekday morning, at 8:30, the children assemble at their respective schools in the city. They board a bus, along with their teacher chaperones, and arrive in Rye an hour later.
The focus each day is on a particular theme, with activities geared to the ages and experience levels of the participants. One day the theme was “survival.” The third and fourth graders, under the leadership of educator Mary Gillick, learned how various animals protect themselves from predators.
Vivia Harrison, who teaches fifth grade in Harlem, has been participating in the program for three years. “I really love this program,” Harrison exclaimed, while watching campers trying to catch flying insects in nets. “It gives the children a chance to see what life is like outside the city — and it’s interactive. They are learning science, even though they think they’re just having fun at camp.”