Offering Day Camps for Immigrant Children in Nashville
For the past seven years, we have conducted a kids’ camp in Antioch. The demographic of Camp Skillz Antioch is primarily Hispanic and the income levels are extremely low. In an apartment complex that houses nearly 85% immigrant families, we found a place to offer summer services to children who otherwise have little or no social outlet. Our camp concentrates on developing both practical and healthy social skills.
Over the years, the children have benefited from activities that emphasize values such as cooperation, honesty, and kindness. They have participated in workshops facilitated by experts in the field of food production, beekeeping, building, the arts and more. These are true workshops because the facilitator teaches, demonstrates, and then allows each of the campers to have a hands-on experience. A combination of fun, learning, new friends, and caring counselors resulted in the children telling our staff: “We don’t want camp to end!” This summer, we are in Antioch for our eighth consecutive year of Camp Skillz. Also, this summer we expanded our kids’ camp to Madison, an area just minutes from our organization’s headquarters. The similarity between Antioch and Madison is the demographic: immigrant families living on a meager income.
The Lord led us to a trailer park located in Madison with nearly 200 families, the vast majority of which are Hispanic immigrants. The needs of this community are evident on the face. Hundreds of single wide trailers are crowded together. Most are in need of major repairs. Some are beyond repair and should be demolished. With the cooperation of the management, we were granted permission to host a summer camp right in the trailer park. “There are so many children here and during the summer, there is nothing for them to do,” said the manager.
We just completed our first week of Camp Skillz Madison (for children 6 to 11) and Skillz, Sports & More (for children 11 to 16). A team made up of school teachers, a public school counselor, youth sports employee, youth worker, and a college intern from El Salvador who “breathes soccer” prepared the curriculum, designed activities, and games, and arranged for featured facilitators to conduct various workshops for the campers. Everything was ready as we prepared to serve 80+ children.
Week One was a great start. Twenty-five children attended. We know, however, that there are many more children who would enjoy camp. On one occasion, a parent asked to sign up her friend’s children. “She can’t read or write,” she said quietly. We also know that some parents are hesitant to ‘sign up’ for camp. In our present cultural climate that looks suspiciously on the immigrant, we notice the fear parents have in letting their children attend a program conducted by people they don’t know. Conversations with parents at the sign-in table have been a little tense. Utilizing our Spanish speakers, we try to ease the concern of parents but in the end, we understand that trust takes time. It is our commitment to build that trust with this community.
Camp Skillz Antioch and Camp Skillz Madison are extensions of the original Camp Skillz (Old Hickory) into some of Nashville's neediest neighborhoods. But the camps are also the beginning of continual service in areas of need "right under our noses." As we get to know the kids, we become all the more familiar with the needs that their families face, and then feel all the more compelled to meet them. Camp Skillz is the beginning. But we're going to respond with even more: from adult learning classes to food distribution, to job skills and college readiness to home maintenance. We cannot see the immigrant among us as a stranger to be ignored. We must see them as a neighbor to be loved.