Summer in the City, St. James Cathedral’s three-week summer enrichment program for at-risk youth, isn’t just great fun and great food. It’s an opportunity for 30-some campers to discover or deepen artistic talents and explore Chicago’s cultural landscape and its diverse neighborhoods in new ways.
“I like it because it gives kids who are in not particularly good neighborhoods a chance to come downtown and see what the city has to offer,” says Lundyn Davis, 19, who grew up in the South Shore neighborhood and attended Summer in the City as a camper before becoming a counselor. “Before I turned 15, I really didn’t come downtown unless I was with my parents.”
Now in its 15th year, Summer in the City is run by St. James in partnership with a number of congregations, including St. Chrysostom’s, Chicago, and St. Mary’s, Park Ridge. This year the program also is partnering with Grace Episcopal Church in the Loop and St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church on the South Side for day trips to those churches. St. George and St. Matthias help out as the designated far South Side bus pickup and drop-off location.
Camp activities include visual arts, dance, music, kayaking, rock climbing, and trips around the city. This summer, campers will visit Theaster Gates Rebuild Foundation for an arts and architectural plunge on the South Side. There will also be walking tours of downtown and a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see an exhibit of paintings by American artist Kerry James Marshall.
“On the South Side and the West Side, kids can grow up and live and die in the same spot,” Davis says. “It’s a good experience to see what the city has to offer.”
The Rev. Ed Bird, vicar of St. Andrew’s Church and director of Summer in the City, recruits both counselors and campers from local churches. To help build leadership skills, Summer in the City offers the opportunity for campers to become paid junior counselors and potentially become full-time camp counselors.
That is the route Davis, a rising junior at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, followed. “At first, I was too young to be a counselor,” she says, “but I just showed them that I was a leader and I had the leadership skills, and after that I just got promoted, I guess.”
To ensure diversity, Bird recruits from throughout the city.
“The recruitment process hasn’t been terribly formal,” he says. “There’s never a shortage of students wanting to come. I usually make a deal with churches who sponsor us for a day or who let us use their space. I make a deal that they can have five children ages 9-to-12 come to the camp. At the camp we have between eight and 10 areas of the city represented.”
For some, the experience creates a new world view. For camp counselor Emily Yurkovic, it changed her life.
“Summer in the City has done so much for me in so many ways that I can’t even think of them all right now,” says Yurkovic, who is in her third year as a paid camp counselor and is a rising junior at DePaul University. “It really revealed my purpose to me. Before attending camp, I was a chemistry major. About a quarter through this past year, I had a very self-reflective period and realized I wanted to be an intercultural communications major. Just thinking of all I’ve done with Summer in the City and the service work I’ve done, I thought this is what I really want to do when I grow up. And I want to take Summer in the City with me; it makes my heart happy.”
This year, for the first time, the camp has employed two interns through Crosswalk to Work, a program that encourages businesses, nonprofits and local institutions to hire at-risk youth for summer employment and then connects them to job-ready young people eager for the chance to prove themselves. CROSSwalk to Work operates as a partnership between the Diocese of Chicago and Youth Guidance, a social services organization that identifies appropriate 16-19 year olds who have successfully participated in its employment readiness training.
“I think CROSSwalk to Work is a fantastic program,” Bird says. “Like Summer in the City [SITC], CROSSwalkers learn in a safe environment and develop talents, skills and relationships that they will be able to maintain over a longer period of time. CROSSwalk and SITC seem a perfect match in terms of showing young people of all walks and all places around Chicago how they are community builders.”
“What’s been so interesting about this camp is that for the children, all the barriers that older people hold just aren’t there for them,” Yurkovic says. “We have African Americans, Latinos, Latinas, a few Caucasians. … It’s opened my heart so much to see how much they love each other.”
While the camp is centered in a church, it is not a religious camp. Bird says he considers that learning teamwork and building community across communities and barriers is inherently spiritual. And the campers love it.
“The fact that every camper who comes want to come again is a pretty good sign,” Bird says. “We haven’t attached any program evaluation program yet. The primary evaluation we get is the response of the children and their sense of joy.”
Want to help? Your tax-deductible contribution can be an important investment in a young person’s future. Gifts at any level help provide every aspect of the program, from theater workshops and music lessons to healthy meals, safety training and much more. For more information email the Rev. Ed Bird at EBirdIV@comcast.net or visit the program’s website at www.saintjamescathedral.org/outreach/summer-in-the-city.