ROCKINGHAM — Summer fun has just begun for participants in this year’s Summer Food and Fun program at the Leak Street Cultural Center.
From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily through July 31, school-aged children will enjoy swimming, field trips, two USDA-approved meals each day, time on the playground and in the gymnasium and educational enrichment activities.
“We ask these kids to put up $50, but not everyone can afford that,” said J.C. Watkins, honorary chairman of the Leak Street Alumni Board of Directors. “The most challenging thing is finding a way to pay for it. When you think about it, $50 for the whole six weeks of summer camp is not a lot for what they are getting. They get two meals, they go skating and swimming.”
Watkins said the board’s hope is that every child who wants to be involved in the summer camp can have his or her costs covered or at least partially funded. He does not want to turn anyone away.
“As of now we have about 50 students enrolled,” Watkins said Monday. “We are expecting to have about twice that many by next week. We agreed to chip in $50 to help a mother with three children who can’t afford the camp. It’s not just us here at the table this morning. It’s the other board members as well pitching in to help. We have 15 board members.”
Watkins said the camp also has a group of dedicated volunteers helping with activities and field trips. Two of them are community natives who are home from college for the summer.
Adam Blanchard, a rising sophomore at Winston-Salem State University, said his own life is enriched by helping out.
“I’m doing a little bit of everything wherever I’m needed,” Blanchard said. “I distribute the food and make sure everything flows straight.”
Chelsea Cross, a rising junior at N.C. Central University, spoke of the first day of her volunteer work for the camp’s meals program with a smile.
“The most rewarding part of today was seeing the kids come in and seeing their smiles,” Cross said. “They smiled when they came in to eat a meal. They get excited about what they get to eat.”
Watkins thanked the Sandhills Branch of the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina for its hard work and dedication to seeing that children in the poorest counties of the state continue to receive nutritious breakfasts and lunches throughout the summer, showing a kitchen area stacked high with boxes full of meals shipped to the cultural center last week.
Vanessa McIver kept her classroom full of fifth- through seventh-grade girls cool and happy while the boys from her class were away having their time in the gym.
“They really wanted get over there and when the lady came after lunch and said it was time, they were very excited,” McIver said.
In another classroom, a delighted group of 5-7-year-olds played on the carpet with large foam letters of the alphabet while giggling at a cartoon on a small television in their play area. Teacher Courtney Wall said they enjoyed themselves immensely the first day of the summer camp.
Shavier Leak, a volunteer with the North Carolina Literacy Corps, was also in the classroom.
“I’m here to manage the reading program and help students maintain or increase their literacy skills,” Leak said. “I work with all of the age groups at different times.”
Recently hired as director of the summer camp, Brenda David said she was excited to be planning new events for the kids.
“I want them to do something they haven’t done in the past,” she said. “We’re going to have self-defense classes with the Ebony Dragons this year. We will also be visiting the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge in Wadesboro so the children can get to know about different kinds of animals.”
David said that help from a special group of volunteers is important to the success of the camp.
“We have a good group of boys who are going to help with the kids out in the gym,” she said. “They are just good kids from the high school who want to be part of this. It’s inspiring.”
Those volunteers, ranging in age from 14 to 17, all agreed they would rather be doing something positive to help the community than sitting home watching TV. Their names are Jesse James, Brian Little, Ahmad Quick, Brandon Bartels, Caleb Ross and Jordan King. They found out about the opportunity through friends or family members who already work with the center.
David said Angel Leak, Deanna Williams and Dione Covington are also valued volunteers she wanted to acknowledge publicly.
“They weren’t here earlier, but I did not want to leave them out,” David said.
The camp is sponsored by Leak Street Alumni in cooperation with the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina. For more information or to join in on the fun, call 910-997-6238.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.