MAPLEWOOD, NJ — That a summer camp can change a child’s life is undeniable when looking into the shining eyes of Trevon, a 4-year-old camper at the South Mountain Y in Maplewood, who has been able to attend the Y Knots summer camp program for nine weeks thanks to donations by the local community to the financial aid efforts of the organization.
Trevon’s story is unique not only because of the 100-percent financial aid that he received, but also because, at the end of the camp day, he returns to a local shelter, where he lives with his mother, Katrina.
“Trevon and his mother have lived in the shelter for a few years now, and because of Division of Child Protection and Permanency restrictions, she is not allowed to go anywhere with him unsupervised,” Zammeah Bivins Gibson, executive director of the shelter, said in a recent interview with the News-Record. “The only interaction he had with other kids was the children on his unit at the shelter, but all of them are in the day care program during the day.”
Due to a lack of funding, DCP&P was no longer able to pay for Trevon to attend the day care program, which meant that his only option was to spend his days in the room that he shared with his mother watching television or playing with toys.
“As you can imagine, a 4-year-old gets bored very easily with so little to do and nowhere to go,” Gibson said. “But one day a volunteer was at the shelter who was taking professional pictures to update the shelter website. She heard about Trevon and Katrina’s story and mentioned that the local Y had scholarships available for their programs and reached out to them. Next thing I knew, Katrina was filling out forms and gathering documents for Trevon to be able to attend camp.”
For a child who was spending most of his days cooped up in a room with his mother and experiencing little stimulation and interaction with other children, camp was an indescribable experience for Trevon.
“In this camp, he has the opportunity to make new friends, socialize with other kids, and he is engaged in different activities like swimming lessons in the morning, a variety of specials including science, nature, art and learning about the world, healthy you, and imaginative art (drama),” camp director Jenn McAfee said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “He also gets to participate in field trips to King’s College for a play and Turtle Back Zoo.
“Trevon is such a loving child, and he is a hugger,” McAfee continued. “He’s made some nice friends in his group, and he has a special place in our hearts. He was only signed up for six weeks and we were able to extend it to nine weeks so he could be here for the whole camp.”
All the staff members at the South Mountain Y are in agreement that it is the continuous generosity of the local community that makes it possible for children like Trevon to be able to attend programs and camps through the YMCA.
“We want to make sure that our families knew that these dollars are being directly transferred back into the community and making a real impact. All year we try to raise money from the community so we can turn around and give it back to the community,” South Mountain Y assistant director Eric Stoddard said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “We never give 100 percent in scholarships so that we can make sure parents are invested as well, but we made an exception in his case. We were able to look at scholarship dollars after the first three weeks and see that there were funds available for him to be able to continue for the rest of the summer.”
And because the Y has a commitment to social responsibility, Stoddard said that it has incorporated curriculum into the programs so that campers can begin to understand the importance of paying it forward and giving back.
“We’re teaching campers about being charitable through an educational component about how camp changes lives,” he said. “The kids are reading short stories about different ways to be charitable, and then we ask that they raise a few dollars so that more kids like Trevon can go to camp.”
Trevon’s involvement in summer camp not only had an impact on him, but has also provided his mother with the ability to make some changes in her life.
“Trevon being in camp has given his mother the opportunity to do some things that she needs to do for personal growth, like seeking employment and taking part in other programs,” Gibson said. “These are things she didn’t always have the time to do when Trevon was with her all day, and she has been able to improve her ability to prepare for life outside of the shelter.
“The time apart while he is in camp also helps with reducing her anger and frustration and she has been a lot more patient with him,” she continued. “We are all really excited that this happened for the both of them.”
Trevon’s mother, Katrina, is grateful for this opportunity that has been given to them for personal growth.
“I have noticed a lot of changes in him since he started the camp,” she said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “For him to be cooped up in here with me, there isn’t much to do. He loves the camp counselors, and they help him to express himself better than I could; he is more pleasant now. He has the biggest smile on his face when he comes home now, and it makes me feel so much better.”
Katrina says that she came to her current shelter from another shelter for teen mothers, and has been in this location for four years.
“We have been in this shelter since Trevon was 3 months old, so this is the only place he knows,” she said. “Because of the camp, he has an increased vocabulary now, and they work on emotions and other things with him. It’s so exciting to see the growth in him because of this summer camp. It will help him make a smoother transition to preschool in the fall, and it has helped me to be able to help him better.”
Photos Courtesy of Gosia Smerdel
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that the assistant director of the South Mountain YMCA is Eric Stoddard, not Eric Stafford.