July 2011
Connecting Generations

Multigenerational Reading Camp

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

In the first year of his episcopacy, Bishop Stacy Sauls was assessing the gifts and challenges facing the Diocese of Lexington. He saw the problems plaguing the Appalachian region: high levels of poverty and rampant illiteracy. He saw the gifts the Church had to offer: the Cathedral Domain, our beautiful camp and conference center; our legacy of strong camp ministry; and a wealth of educators in our pews. The gifts and strength could, should, and must address the problems. Reading Camp was born.

Reading Camp began in the summer of 2002: one week of camp at the Cathedral Domain, with 32 campers and 30 volunteers. Now finishing our tenth summer of Reading Camp programs, we have served 1,172 children at nine sites in nearly a year's worth of camp weeks throughout central, southeastern, and northern Kentucky.

Since its inception, Reading Camp has been a resource to struggling students, at no cost to their families. Over 90% of the children we serve receive free or reduced lunches in their schools, and the majority live below the poverty line. Living in the hopelessness of poverty, it is little wonder why the children struggle with literacy. In their families, the primary struggle is for basic necessities, for survival. There is little time to devote to academics and learning.

The children who attend Reading Camp have repeatedly failed in school, have given up on themselves and associate learning with embarrassment and a feeling of worthlessness. Each year, campers tell us on the first day, “I can’t do this. I’m stupid.” We exist to reverse these associations, to let the children see their potential and ability. And, most of all, we exist so they can come to a safe place entirely focused on their wellbeing and learning. We're a place where they can be children - joyous, curious, imaginative children, reveling in the pleasures of discovery and learning.

Volunteer Reading Camp recruiters visit elementary school teachers and counselors across the diocese to explain the Reading Camp program and deliver camper applications. School personnel identify students who most need a "boost" during the summer, to gain new and review old skills, to ensure they have a firmer foundation on which to begin the next school year. Children are recruited, applications are processed, letters of acceptance sent, and then we launch into planning our camps. We provide round-trip transport to children in need, and then – camp begins!

The camps themselves are dynamic, vibrant multigenerational communities, staffed by volunteers from across our diocese, the country, and the world (20 states and two foreign countries). It is not just a coincidence that Reading Camp is multigenerational - it is quintessential to who we are and how the ministry works.
Each volunteer staff is composed of three primary “types” of volunteers: counselors, teachers, and support staff.

  • Counselors are our young adult generation, ranging in age from 15-24: high school, college, and graduate students. They serve as chaperones to the campers, but more importantly, they are role models and friends. During the week, the counselors develop leadership skills, the ability to mentor, to problem-solve, to create safe structure and routine, and to place others’ needs before their own.
  • Our teachers are middle-aged to older adults, both current and retired teachers. In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of young adults interested in pursuing programs like TeachforAmerica, who would like to get teaching, administrative, and leadership experience through Reading Camp. So, we now include young adults as teachers, pairing them as assistants with more mature or experienced certified teachers.
  • Our support staff members range in age from young adult to older adult. Support staff members read with the children in the mornings, make lunches and snacks, facilitate activities in the afternoons, and ensure that the dormitories and cabins are kept clean.

The goal of each camp program is to build a cohesive community with calm routine and structure, with flexibility to allow friendships to blossom across generations. It is vital that the children experience a well-functioning multigenerational community based on mutual respect, love, and care. It is in this community that they are inspired to share their ideas, explore their own creativity, and form healthy relationships with adults.

This is Reading Camp: a program to build children’s literacy skills, and an immersion experience into a diverse multigenerational community. The children are socialized in a way that brings them out of their shells, builds trust, and makes them know, deeply, that they are loved, they are capable, and they can do it – whatever “it” may be.

The volunteers work to create ideal Christian community, to live into our Baptismal Covenant, and to realize the Kingdom. We are able to do this, I believe, because it is all of us, together: all generations, all people, from all places.

If you would like more information about the Reading Camp program and how to discern whether your church or diocese could form one of its own, please contact Allison Duvall, Executive Director, at readingcamp1@diolex.org, (859) 252-6527 x110, or visit www.readingcamprocks.org.

Allison Duvall is the executive director of Reading Camp. Now in its 10[1] year, Reading Camp has sites throughout Kentucky (Dioceses of Lexington and Kentucky) as well as in Iowa, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia. There are also two Reading Camp sites in South Africa and Liberia.


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This article is part of the July 2011 Vestry Papers issue on Connecting Generations