Erie House School-Age Program Goes to Summer Camp

August 30, 2016 | Chicago, IL

Summer Camp

Students in the Erie House School-Age Program visited Camp Butternut Springs in Valparaiso, Indiana, earlier this month. PHOTO COURTESY ESWIN GIRON

Ninety-three children enrolled in the School-Age Program at Erie Neighborhood House spent 4 enriching days at Camp Butternut Springs in Valparaiso, Indiana, earlier this month.

Kids in the program look forward to the week-long excursion led by School-Age staff each summer, and for good reason. The trip, a longstanding tradition that originated 100 years ago, gives participants the opportunity to connect to the outdoors through activities such as hiking, swimming, canoeing, fishing, archery, and scavenger hunts while developing knowledge about conservation as well as other outdoor skills.

Erie House began sending children and youth to camp in 1915, during an era when camping was emerging as a solution to challenges associated with urban life. Initially Erie House kids attended Camp Kirkland, a Salvation Army facility in Central Illinois. In 1943, the Erie House board of directors purchased Camp Davies to ensure access to the benefits of camping for its participants throughout the summer months.

The camps were chaperoned by volunteers, and members of the Presbytery of Chicago provided financial support for the endeavor. Camp Davies was later sold, but the commitment to taking Erie House kids to camp was never relinquished.

This year’s trip, however, did not come without some challenges.

Due to the state’s yearlong budget impasse and suspended funding for social service agencies, numerous enrichment activities—including field trips—have had to be cancelled. Knowing the importance of the annual camping trip, Erie House staff worked tirelessly to raise money for it by hosting several grassroots fundraisers, including a barbeque and a comedy show. The events were met with overwhelming support from parents, staff and donors within the Erie House community. In addition, Bass Pro Shops contributed a generous $2,500 grant for supplies and transportation.

According to Erie House staff, the trip would not have been possible without the support of these fundraising efforts and the donors who supported them.

“We didn’t expect to get the amount of support that we received,” says School-Age staff member Alba Galarza-Lopez, attempting to speak over the kids playing in her classroom. She played an integral role in making the fundraising efforts happen and was a staunch advocate for the camping trip throughout the summer. “Seeing that support in action was more rewarding than the actual payout,” she adds.

Galarza-Lopez explains that the summer camping trip provides participants a nurturing environment away from distractions, electronics and, in some cases, the hostile environments of city life. “Some of these kids don’t get an opportunity to leave Chicago—or even their neighborhood—very often,” she says.

At Camp Butternut Springs, participants were able to play outside, tell stories around the campfire and see the stars brighter than they ever could in Chicago. Many of them experienced nature for the very first time while also developing social skills, environmental awareness and long-lasting friendships.

In short, the camping trip was a transformative experience—in keeping with tradition—and will continue to impact the students who attended long after school resumes and summer has faded away.


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