By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
As the morning haze lifted on a mid-June day, children’s banter and cheers reverberated through the tree-shrouded grounds of the Santa Clara Regional Community Center in west Dallas.
A kickball game engaged one group on a hill adjacent to the buildings and sparkling swimming pool. Other children romped on playground equipment while three small boys played “tag” under counselors’ supervision at the new center’s first annual summer camp.
The eight-week camp, priced at $20 per week per child, is making a big splash in an area where parents love the reassurance of a safe setting and positive adult role models, said KD Brown, the center’s program supervisor.
But the children summed up the camp in one word: “Fun,” said a cluster of grinning kids in unison as they walked with two counselors from the gym to a math refresher class before lunch.
These mark early days for the panoramic vision that Catholic Charities of Dallas harbors for its newest program.
“This is just our first step,” said Arne Nelson, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities of Dallas. “The imperative coming into 2015 is to fill the house. I want to fill the halls with laughter. I want to fill the study rooms with kids with their heads down learning. We want our kids to be prepared academically, socially and athletically when they go into high school.”
But the vision does not stop with young people.
“What we’re looking for is a community center for everyone in the family,” Nelson said. “We’ll have clinics for women’s health and family health, after-hours education for adults and after-school study programs.”
Nelson said that about $1.5 million went toward renovations of the center, which includes a 16,000-square-foot gymnasium and a 10,000-square-foot educational building.
The summer camp already has proved a jewel, said Catarina Torres, the center’s program manager.
She said that the camp reached capacity with about 150 registered campers.
“We have a waiting list,” she said. “That alone tells us there is a need that we are meeting.”
She said that the camp serves youth who have little access to academic programming during the summer.
Two counselors escorted first-through-third-graders into a classroom to work on telling time, identifying geometric shapes and keeping other skills intact over the summer.
“The parents appreciate having their children with people who care about them,” said camp counselor Roxanna Rodriguez, a Bishop Lynch High School graduate and a student at Texas Woman’s University who is a parishioner at Santa Clara Catholic Church. “A lot of the parents are working two or three jobs.
Some are single mothers or single fathers. The parents speak Spanish and appreciate the extra help we can give their children with writing in English.”
Though outdoor activities and field trips are camp staples, Brown said that the center’s library and 10 classrooms offer incentives to children and adults to immerse themselves in learning.
But when he stepped into the education building’s kitchen, his grin widened dramatically as he described how the center would offer food-handling certification courses for adults and all sorts of chances for children to cook up some masterpieces.
A lot of nourishment occurs in kitchens, Brown said with a smile that said more than his words.
“I love kitchens,” he said. “Children will learn about cooking, label-reading and nutrition. But what I love is seeing the look on kids’ faces when they make something of their own from scratch.”