DeKALB – Watching Terrance Davis whack tennis balls across the court at University Village on Wednesday, you couldn’t tell the only time he’d played before was in a video game.
Terrance, 10, was one of about 60 children living in the University Village apartment complex who attended Camp Power, a free day- camp where children learned about sports, nutrition and academics. The camp was launched in June and ended this week with a Junior Olympics-style competition.
“I liked the sports and the coaches,” Terrance said between kicking a football and running to the tennis court. “I did a lot of things I never did before.”
Maybe more importantly, campers and organizers said, they learned what can happen when their community gathers for something positive.
“I think most people know when they’re here, they can express their feelings and show people what they can do,” said 11-year-old camper Tamiah Griffin, who said she learned to throw a football and mastered multiplication and division.
The DeKalb Police Department’s Youth in Need Task Force was the incubator for the idea that eventually became Camp Power. Mary Hess, an asset specialist with the Ben Gordon Center, Lisa Cummings with Live Healthy DeKalb County, and Nancy Prange, the dietetic internship director for Northern Illinois University, coordinated the program after receiving a $20,000 Champions for Healthy Kids grant from Minneapolis-based General Mills.
They chose University Village because of the complex’s demographics. More than 600 children live at the multibuilding housing complex, where many tenants receive some federal housing assistance, according to data from the complex’s management. Of the families who live there, 92 percent are headed by women.
The camp started with more than 100 kids, and about 60 consistently attended throughout the summer, Hess said. Camp organizers also relied heavily on about 500 volunteers and several paid mentors.
Mentor Tiara Huggins, 30, got a glimpse of a job working with children, a field where she’d like to use her bachelor’s degree in family and child studies. Huggins, who has lived in University Village for nine years, said she valued the experience she gained because it could help her in her career.
She also believes the camp will leave a positive impression on everyday life.
“I think the kids got to meet some of the other kids and people got to meet and see people they might not have known,” Huggins said. “I think Camp Power has helped in so many areas.”
Field trips and visits from NIU athletes, artists and community members helped Camp Power chip away at the barrier that seems to exist between University Village and the rest of the community, mentors and coordinators said.
“I think by having all the volunteers come in during the summer, they were able to see that University Village is like any other neighborhood with kids and families,” Hess said.
Camp Power coordinators in September will report on the effects the camp had on nutrition, physical activity, life skills and crime. They hope to offer an after-school program for University Village residents this year and to offer Camp Power next summer.