With COVID-19 forcing the closure of recreational sports, local parks, and camps, it was a challenge for children to find outlets of fun during the summer months. Members of the Health Equity Action Team (HEAT), including faculty from the UK College of Health Sciences, and the Lexington Housing Authority (LHA) saw this need and hosted a summer camp for children of all ages.
Brandi White, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the department of health and clinical sciences has partnered with LHA and the East End on previous research projects. White along with Alisia Sullivan, Chanel James both social work graduate students and Rasheen Turner, CHS clinical leadership and management (CLM) graduate, were excited to help LHA secure the grant funding which supported the program.
The structure of the camp involved elementary and middle school children as the main campers, while high school-aged teens served as junior mentors—assisting the campers and helping them navigate the activities and programs.
“Once we received the funding, we passed out flyers to our residents so we could gauge their interest in the idea for the camp,” said Dana Mason, LHA housing manager. “Most were excited about the idea and many kids applied to be junior mentors.”
“The junior mentors truly wanted to help the community, and they did so by spending time with the young campers who had been stuck inside all summer without much to do,” White said. “The mentors organized mini-camps and each day campers had a different theme to focus on.” Themes included weird science day, which consisted of making elephant toothpaste and a lava lamp. Junior mentors also had a scheduled day during each week in which they talked about career opportunities and life skills. One of their sessions included a visit from Herbert White, MD, MPH, MS, a preventive medicine physician at Ascension St. Vincent in Evansville, Indiana. Junior mentors learned how to use a stethoscope, reflex hammer, and tuning fork, and received their own stethoscopes and first aid kits.
College students and recent graduates were also able to serve the camp as senior mentors. Rasheen Turner, Vinny Mattox (Kentucky State University alumnus), Keivon Francis (UK College of Arts and Sciences student), and Hannah Bowman (UK College of Nursing student), as well as human health science (HHS) graduate Toya Walker, stepped up to serve in these positions.
Due to the sudden adjustments made to align with new COVID-19 guidelines, the senior mentors were unable to fulfill everything that was in the original plan; however, this did not stop the fun they were able to create for the children.
“I got to meet the campers at Malibu Jack’s and I truly enjoyed it so much,” Walker said. “I remember being that age and analyzing the world like it was a playground—it was amazing to see that again through these kids.”
Additionally, Turner visited the junior mentors to discuss real-life scenarios or barriers they may face as minority students throughout their time in college. “I made sure to stress that regardless of their social status, where they’re from, or where they stand now, it will not define where they go or what they can do in college,” Turner said. “I felt like a big brother to them.”
The camp would not have been possible without the support of LHA staff Tiffany Clark, Marlene Stevenson, and Ms. Laverne Laine, as well as LHA maintenance staff and Ms. Alice Haskins.
Although both White and Mason hope to receive the same grant funding again, they both believe building and strengthening sustainable community relationships will help determine the outcome for next year’s camp.
“There is a need right now for building those relationships within the community, and the biggest hurdle right now is access,” White said. “Whether that is access to knowledge, or access to the right people, I would love it if we could continue to produce a program that is sustainable and beneficial to the community.” White foresees a summer camp that would expose both younger campers and junior mentors to the health professions, with CHS students continuing to serve in the role of senior mentors. With the racial diversity of the East End community, White believes sustainable partnerships could make the camp into a potential recruitment pipeline for CHS programs.