ROCKINGHAM — When members of the Leak Street Alumni, Inc. Board of Directors met to discuss updates to its cultural center’s summer program for community children, they knew it was time to introduce new energy in the form of inspired young staff members.
“The mission of Leak Street Alumni speaks to meeting the needs of the community,” said board member Thomas D. Hager. “And under the broad-based mission, we provide space and programs to address those needs. The board had a conversation and decided to have a look at the youth program, to examine its effectiveness. It was decided that we needed to go in another direction, not only to attract youth to the program but to keep them engaged.”
That, said alumni secretary Hazel Robinson, is what led to the hiring of Courtney Wall as summer camp director and Kierston Godfrey, Gedia Powell and Artoria Smith as summer camp group leaders.
“The new staff is not only new — they have new, innovative ideas that we know excited the children,” Robinson said. “What we want is for them to have fun.”
Wall said she has worked at Leak Street since she was in the 8th grade.
“Even as a teacher (in Richmond County Schools) last year, I worked here during my summer break,” she said. “This is my community. Being able to give back to the community and offer goal-oriented skills to the kids is important. When I worked at the health department, I offered my skills after school and incorporated them into the programs here.”
Robinson said the addition of Powell restored music to the program in a way that has not been available before. Powell, the youngest of the new staff, is a rising sophomore at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
“I specialize mostly in audio engineering,” he said. “And I’m an instrumentalist, too. Here, I’m doing a full course music class from start to finish, teaching them the entire process of creating music with a goal of recording an entire album. Yesterday, we wrote our first song, ‘The Sock Song.’”
Powell explained that he began the song by having students brainstorm words — any words that popped into their minds — and he selected one to use as the basis for it.
“Showing them the entire recording process takes a lot of quiet thought and a lot of concentration,” he said. “And I’m teaching them different styles of music — pop music, reggae, dance.”
Smith, an exceptional children’s teacher assistant for Richmond County Schools, said her focus is on teaching the kids the practical skills of living.
“As an icebreaker, they had to draw five pictures with no letters or numbers, describing what they like,” she said. “So they were drawing apps, like the little ghost for SnapChat and all the things they do on the computer. And I say, ‘Okay, let me tell you about the real world.’ We’re here to have fun, but they still have to live in the real world. A lot of them don’t know those basic face-to-face communication skills needed when they actually see someone in person.”
Godfrey described her focal point as one of teaching the students the value of respect.
“My days are arts and crafts,” she said. “Yesterday we started a puzzle and today we finished it. It started out as a girls versus boys thing, but it was never a competition. It was about learning teamwork. The parts they began yesterday, separately, came together. It is about self-respect, being patient, communication skills and working together.”
And students are learning to make better decisions about what to eat, thanks to a new nutritional program with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
“The food bank provides USDA certified meals in conjunction with Southern Whey Catering Service,” Wall said. “So they are getting hot meals and learning about nutrition, instead of just peanut butter and jelly.”
Wall also noted that the work taking place at Leak Street this summer could not be accomplished without five dedicated volunteers: Jordan King, Ahmad Quick, Cynthia Little, Shant’a Watkins and Angel Leak.
“These individuals are helping us throughout the day here at Leak Street Summer Food and Fun of 2016,” she said.
Hager said that while the center’s relationship with the food bank prevents charging money for the camp, Leak Street asks parents of participating children for a donation of $50 per child, which he notes is significantly less than what other summer programs charge per week — much less for the entire program.
“We do ask for the donations, but we also have scholarships,” Robinson said. “Throughout the year we receive donations from churches and individuals, from businesses, and they tell us they would like for them to be used for the summer camp scholarships. And we are always seeking those donations to help keep those available to the community.”
The day camp runs through July 31 and is still enrolling new students. For more information about the camp, or to donate funds to be used as scholarships, call 910-997-6238.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.