Camp shows boys and girls the way to higher education
By Cari Hachmann/The Portland Observer
Just a few years behind the college-age students who surround them, a group of teenage boys walk coolly in two lines through the heart of Portland State University’s tree-lined campus.
The young men are enrolled at the Police Activities League’s annual National Youth Sports Camp, an educational getaway for kids who come from poor and disadvantaged families.
Considering many have never stepped foot on a college campus before, the boys’ quiet composure is impressive and hopeful to the watching elders.
Lance Waddy, 27, a PAL camp leader and staff member of 15 years, said the camp gives kids who have never been on a college campus before an example of college life and how feasible it is to attend college.
Waddy says it may be that in many of these kids’ homes, nobody is talking about college. Maybe mom or dad didn’t go.
“But if you’re here for four straight weeks and you see people with your face in college, you know it’s that easy to make the transition,” he said.
Fives buses from Beaverton to Gresham were used to transport about half of the 410 low-income boys and girls who participated in the summer program. The youth are split up by age and gender into six groups that rotate throughout the day and around the college campus.
Camp leader Tommy Rudd, 25, was just nine years old when he hopped a bus to his first National Youth Sports Camp in 1996.
“I was really nervous,” he remembers. At that time, many kids his age were sneaking on buses and into camp just to spend a day away from home, off the streets and out of trouble.
Now, Rudd is one of the 90 percent of camp staff members who return every summer to help kids cycle through.
NYSP was created in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement to teach young minorities in the south how to swim as well as expose other underprivileged youth through sports to opportunities of higher education. Held at university campuses, the summer program spread nationwide.
For the past 19 years, PAL has held the camp at PSU, where the university donates over $100,000 in services. At camp, an instructional swimming program is mandatory and kids participate in additional sports like basketball, football, track and field, soccer, bowling and dance.
Coach Paul Frazier has been coaching football at PAL and NYSP camp for 10 years, but says his main purpose here is not football. “It’s education,” he said. “I’m here to help these kids understand the importance of education. I just use football as a vehicle to get that across.”
Frazier says kids revel in the excitement of being on a college campus, where university football players are like celebrity appearances.
“They love it,” he said. “They perk up and pay attention.” He also says the kids love friendly competition. When they come to camp, they get to play and make friends with kids from all around the city.
Respect, sportsmanship, commitment and dedication are the subjects Frazier places before his campers.
Because many kids arrive at camp without the healthy meals they should be getting at home, they are served a morning breakfast and hot lunches, funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The boys and girls learn to make healthier eating choices thanks to Oregon State University Extension staff who use their own nationally-tested model to teach the campers about nutrition and how to cook healthy meals from scratch.
“We are teaching them how to make a meal from whatever ingredients they might have at home in their cupboards,” said Janet Costello of the OSU extension service.
Another program implemented at camp is Gang Resistance and Training or G.R.E.A.T, a skills-based course run by Portland Police officers who bring street smarts and advise on how to say no to gangs and solve conflicts without violence.
Saying no to gangs goes for young girls as well, according to Glynnis Woods, or “Miss Woods” to campers. She has taught at NYSP for 12 years.
“I come here for the kids,” said Woods, who works during the year at Roosevelt High School and carries a no B.S. attitude. “To build relationships and try to teach the girls the right way.”
The right way for Woods means no fighting, no getting into trouble and no hanging around the wrong group. Her alternative is more sports, fun and friendship.
NYSP guidelines require three hours per week of educational enrichment, but due to lack of funding, PAL cannot support these levels, though they still offer classes in the basics.
Until 2005, the federal government funded NYSP through the Community Action Block Grant. When resources were cut after the county entered the war in Iraq, PAL continued to keep the program running and cover annual shortfalls by raising money through private donors and the city of Portland.
Damon Miller, a former camper and PAL youth member who grew up to be NYSP camp director and PAL’s associate director, emphasizes the high need of keeping camp open for years to come.
After all, he is living proof that the camp can make something and someone of kids who may grow up thinking they’ll never be anything.
At the National Youth Sports Camp, “We want to exude citizenship,” Miller said.