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University Circle Inc. expands free summer camp for kids in the neighborhood

Posted June 04, 2021 in Articles

Low-income families may find it difficult to send their kids to a costly summer camp, but one nonprofit organization located in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood is removing that barrier and connecting urban middle-schoolers with their community. University Circle Inc. (UCI) is expanding their free after-school program, Circle Scholars, to the Circle Explorers Summer Camp for 7th and 8th graders.

“Our focus is going to be on leadership, career exposure, learning [and] creative problem solving,” said Chris Ronayne, the president of University Circle Inc. “We are trying to create an opportunity with Circle Explorers that provides children with fun summer learning camp experiences for those that often [have a] financial barrier.”

The free camp will host 7th and 8th graders in four neighborhoods near University Circle: Hough, Fairfax, Glenville and Buckeye-Shaker.

“With over 50,000 residents [in the Greater University Circle area], 45% of our population lives below the federal poverty level [and] 61% are SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants, meaning there’s food insecurity, and 12% are youth enrolled in grades K through 8 [and] 94% are people of color,” Ronayne said.

A community without borders

In 2015, UCI began expanding the organization’s mission of a community without borders by building on their relationships with neighboring residents. The nonprofit created Circle Scholars, an after-school program to keep kids engaged with learning and out of trouble in partnership with area institutions. Today, there are more than 50 students in the program.

Brandy Babus, a Glenville resident with two daughters going into 7th and 8th grades at Mary M. Bethune School, plans to send her kids to the camp.

“I had actually found out about it through Circle Scholars and then after looking it over and reading the stuff, it looks like something for them to do other than being in the home watching TV,” Babus said.

Participants in the after-school program, Circle Scholars, work on fun learning activities. Circle Scholars was created in 2015 to keep middle-schoolers engaged with learning while visiting local arts and cultural institutions.

Expanding their reach

This summer, more than 160 campers will participate across eight schools near University Circle, including Bolton Elementary School, Daniel E. Morgan Elementary School, Harvey Rice Wraparound School, Mary B. Martin School, Mary M. Bethune School, Sunbeam School, Wade Park School and Willson School.

Students will explore their community by visiting many places, including arts and cultural institutions like Cleveland Museum of Art in the University Circle area, water treatment plants in Cleveland, and the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. They’ll also learn about medical careers while touring local hospitals and create in the Sears thinkbox at Case Western Reserve University. The six-week camp is split into three, two-week sessions: culture and innovation, health and wellness, and sustainability and stewardship. Students can register for any or all of the sessions.

“We want to explore career opportunities,” Ronayne said. “Some of our careers in the future are right in our front yard at University Circle [and] at our hospitals with researchers in residence ... with nurses, [with] nurse practitioners [and] with doctors. We will give kids a window into future careers.”

The University Circle area is the second largest employment district in Cleveland, Ronayne said. Schools have been instrumental in partnering with UCI to help students explore career possibilities, he added.

“The teachers and their principals are often the best resources about kids’ needs [and] family needs,” Ronayne said. “They’re in contact with parent-teacher advisory committees. So, they’re just a great information conduit.”

While Babus’ daughters have been part of Circle Scholars the last two years, the Circle Explorers Summer Camp will provide fun summer activities, which will lighten the burden for Babus while she is at work.

“It keeps the kids busy,” she said. “I work during the week, so it gives them somewhere to go while I’m at work basically so that way I don’t really have to try and find someone.”

After expanding Circle Scholars to the Circle Explorers Summer Camp, UCI is now looking toward the future. Plans to grow the program in more Cleveland neighborhoods are on the horizon as well as training campers as future leaders. Ronayne plans to bring students back as camp counselors the following year and utilize them as leaders in their neighborhoods.

“I think this idea of youth ambassadors generally in their neighborhoods is really a good idea,” Ronayne said. “Where the solutions come from students themselves about other pathways to learning [and] to engagement.”

Visit University Circle Inc. to find out more about the Circle Explorers Summer Camp. Register by calling Danielle Gibson at (216) 707-4663. For any questions, you can also email her at danielle.gibson@universitycircle.org.

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