For most children, summer is a milestone season that is full of ice cream, swimming pools and lazy days of leisure. This is not the case for many children in District 186 who live in transitional housing. School breaks for many homeless youth are a period of uncertainty and stress. The Matthew Project, a non-profit in Springfield, that provides clothing, food, tutoring, mentoring, and life skills classes to District 186 children in transitional housing have been part of the YMCA summer camp for the past six years. The partnership with the YMCA and the Matthew Project started in 2015 when Matthew Project leadership was looking to fill a gap in care and learning for the summer months.
Two years ago, we served not only Matthew Project children, but have expanded our reach to include children of mothers who are affiliated with Wooden It Be Lovely. Wooden it Be Lovely is a ministry of Douglas Avenue United Methodist Church. The Wooden Be It Lovely non-profit offers hope and employment to women healing from lives of poverty, addiction, and abuse. They provide transitional employment, mentoring, recovery tools, and education.
The purpose of the summer camp is to provide a place of stability, guidance, security, respect, and kindness for these children. This special camp provides transportation to and from camp, breakfast, lunch, tutoring, swim lessons and all the fun summer camp brings. When this program started six years ago, we hosted eight children. This summer we are estimating a total of 60 children from both Matthew Project, and Wooden It Be Lovely will be part of this summer camp. This amazing summer camp experience is completely subsidized by our Strong Kids Scholarship Fund.
Matthew Project summer camper, J.J., is a ten-year-old boy who attends Harvard Park Elementary School. When he started this program
five years ago, he was quiet and reserved. He has matured substantially and is now a very outgoing and friendly child. One of J.J.’s
favorite experiences in the camp so far was the overnight camp they attended last summer in Potosi, Missouri. Sam Baker, Youth
Development Director who manages the Matthew camp says, “The overnight camp we went to is just not something any of these kids
would experience if they were not part of this program. It was absolutely one of the highlights of their camp experience.” When you ask
Sam about J.J., it is obvious how proud he is of him. Sam says, “J.J is just a sweet, kind child who forever has a smile on his face and is
always offering help when he can.”
As kids grow up, they are influenced by relationships that provide safe, stable and nurturing environments. These children are more likely
to thrive physically and emotionally. Summer camp gives J.J. a place where he is respected, encouraged, and supported.