July 22nd 2011
Posted on Tue, Jul. 20, 2010
Camp Courage keeps kids off streets, teaches rewards of spiritual guidance
BY ANNA QUINTANA
The Miami Herald
Ana Ojeda and Kristy Nuñez get goose bumps every time they hear the cheer:
“We are Camp Courage, the mighty, mighty courage.”
The cheer was written by kids in Camp Courage, a summer program in Little Havana.
For Ojeda and Nuñez, it is a reminder that all of their hard work has paid off.
“We still can’t believe it,”Nuñez said. “Look at my arms, I get chills.”
Less than a year ago, Ojeda and Nuñez, who have been best friends since middle school, began fundraising for a summer program that would cater to local, underprivileged kids.
Based off the model of UrbanPromise, an organization located in New Jersey, Camp Courage — which stands for Changing Others Using Respect and God’s Embrace — is dedicated to academic, social, emotional and spiritual growth.
Eduardo Lopez, the camp director, has been a part of UrbanPromise since he was 14 years old, and he knows the difference this camp can make in children’s lives.
“I’m not out on the streets, I’m not selling drugs, I value myself as man,”Lopez said. “I’m impacting the lives of 50 kids, and that means more to me than being a doctor.”
Camp Courage, which started on July 12, is based in San Juan Bosco Church until it gets its own center.
The camp currently has more than 60 kids between the ages of 5 and 12.
However, teenagers between the ages of 14 to 18 can also take part in the camp as street leaders, junior staff members who help organize and mentor the children.
“As they get older, the kids don’t want to go to camp anymore,”Ojeda said. “That is why we have street leaders, so that they have more responsibility and are not on the street.”
At Camp Courage, the kids are divided up into age groups and rotate activities throughout the day. One group goes to art, another to Bible study, another to recreation and the other to hodgepodge, which is a variety of activities that change every day.
The children are also tutored in reading by the street leaders, go on field trips once a week, and receive breakfast, lunch and a snack, provided by Camille LeClaire, the director of Born to Serve Ministries.
Ojeda and Nuñez are also using their talents to help those children that need more guidance.
Ojeda, a psychiatrist, will counsel kids, while Nuñez, an attorney, will bring guest speakers to talk about crime and drugs.
Sandra Meneces, who is charge of the street leaders, notices that many of the kids just need someone to talk to.
“I have kids come up to me, asking for help,”Meneces said. “They just need someone to talk to and to get away from their home life.”
However, Camp Courage isn’t just a six-week summer program. It is designed to run for the entire year, with an after-school care program to help kids with their homework.
Geraldo Serrano has been with UrbanPromise since high school and, now at 22 years old, is the “chef”at Camp Courage.
“I dropped out of high school, and UrbanPromise Academy accepted me,”Serrano said. “It puts mentors in your life and it gives you a place to be when you don’t have a place to be.”
For Ojeda and Nuñez, that is the most important aspect of Camp Courage: being there for the children.
“We want to improve the community,”Ojeda said. “Our long-term social goal is preventing crime and improving graduation rates.”
They still have a long way to go until that goal is reached, but they already see the impact they are having on the community.
Just ask Elizabeth Gonzalez, a 9-year-old at Camp Courage, what the name stands for.
“It’s called Camp Courage because it encourages you to do things you’ve never done before,”she said.