by Babs Cape –
What a greeting the eight Seeds of Strength members received on August 3rd when we visited Austin Sunshine Camp: Thank you for helping me go to camp. Austin Sunshine Camp is the best camp. If it was not for you, I would not be at the best camp ever. I want to thank you for helping me get in this awesome camp! Noah could not contain his appreciation. And he was not the only kid to thank us that day.
You may remember Erica Blue on Voter Night describing her life-changing experience attending camp as a child. “It lifted me out of poverty,” she explained. Now as CEO of Austin Sunshine Camp, she wants that same experience for over 1,000 children each summer. And under her devoted leadership, it most likely will happen.
Austin Sunshine Camp was started in 1928 on city land in Zilker Park by the Young Men’s Business League. They created a free, overnight camp for kids aged 8-15 whose parents otherwise could not afford summer camp. The lodge today is the third to be built. There are 12 cabins, each with 12 bunks, and 8 Summer Sessions. Due to insufficient funding, all the beds were not filled this year. There is hope that donations will bump up by next year.
ASC has been very successful. It boasts a 69% return rate; 40% of the attendees are African- American and 40% are Hispanic; 70% of the kids are from single-parent homes; most campers are from families with $30k or less income. In 2018, 20 Georgetown kids attended Austin Sunshine Camp; this year the grant was for 40 kids. The $20,000 grant from SoS provided support for the summer-camp staff and food costs for these 40 kids.
Our SoS visit included look-sees at the pavilion where meals are served “forever,” the girls’ showers and restrooms where all the girl-talk happens, and the activity room where all enjoy hip-hop lessons, building robots and making personal “Vision” signs (which are each kid’s vision for his/her life). In the bunk room we saw The Contract, the pact made between the camp and the campers. Well defined values are taken to heart. Each of the 12 cabins lists the SHINE values and promise to live by them. Capers (chores) are assigned to teach responsibility. Each bunk sports a donated quilt, one the camper eventually takes home (that’s a thousand quilts in a season!). The bunkmates begin as strangers, but many end as new best friends.
At ASC, campers unplug from technology, connect with nature and learn values and skills that they can take back to their communities and schools. Goals include increasing self-confidence, improved problem-solving, and life skills such as responsibility and teamwork. To reach these lofty goals, there is a focus on the outdoors through swimming, nature study, hikes, games, ropes courses, disc golf, gymnastics and field trips to the Nature and Science Center. Evenings offer excitement and fun through the Zilker Park Hillside Theater, Neon Dance Party, Carnival, and Canoe Night. When one of the campers was asked what she liked best about Camp Sunshine, she said, “The counselors!” and quickly added, “The food!”. For kids who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from, this is a big deal.
Austin Camp Sunshine matters to these kids! It provides the time and place to change children’s directions, to teach values, and to offer role models – all in 5 days! It works!