In June, St. Stephen’s Oak Ridge reunited with friends in the Clearfork Valley community as they began their 4th year of Reading Camp in the area. Reading Camp seeks to assist children from nearby small elementary schools.
Breakfast and lunch are provided every day, as well as take-home bags. Children play games, do crafts or other activities related to a theme, and wind up the camp with a special field trip. This year’s Reading Camp theme was “The Write Stuff.” The camp ran June 10-14, and then Thursdays in July (except July 4).
Residents in the area are a mix of folks who are doing their best to deal with the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining, and coal miners who support mountaintop removal. They suffer from the lack of economic opportunities in towns abandoned by coal companies when the coal runs out or the market dries up. And all of it affects the children.
Reading Camp is held in the Clearfork Community Institute (CCI) located in Eagan, Tenn. which was formed in partnership with the Woodland Community Trust. When the Eagan School was closed, the community turned the school building into the CCI. There is lots of nice indoor space and lots of yard for the kids to play.
The Reading Camp program includes reading out loud, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox was the book selected for 2019. Children read the book and also created their own illustrations. This year the possibility of keeping a personal journal was introduced. The children received instruction on paper making to create covers for their journals. After they decorated the covers, they assembled their journals using covers and provided filler paper.
Another new addition this year was that the children, ages 5 to 14, created their own story. Early in the first Reading Camp week, the group talked about story writing then, building upon reading and creating illustrations for the story of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, they all got together to create something new. One child shared an idea, then another came up with an idea and the ideas kept coming. Even the creepy clown was an important part of the story for one child. Everything was worked through first on flip charts as the children made the story into a play assisted by teachers and Reading Camp volunteers. The East Tennessee Cursillo community lent costumes and the children picked out costumes they wanted, then went on to act in the roles they created for their play.
Some of the children have come to Reading Camp for all four years; some children didn’t come this year because their families had broken up, and some children have now grown up. One 17 year-old young man who has participated in past years, just graduated from high school and has become a helper. Teachers, volunteers, and children all enjoy their time together learning from each other during Reading Camp.