CAMDEN, NJ — Renditions of the country and hip-hop fusion hit "Old Town Road," dramatic performances and debates, booming sing-alongs, and STEM projects filled the Walter K. Gordon Theater on the Rutgers University–Camden campus last week.
A summer showcase for the Rutgers–Camden Ignite program played as a whirlwind tour of each camper's nearly-one-month experience before a crowd of family and friends of some of the 100 enrolled children.
"So many people think summer camp is just, 'Oh, have fun, go on trips.' But we wanted to teach the kids something," said Taras Mack, site coordinator for Ignite, following the event Friday afternoon. "We just want this program to be a safe haven for the kids."
The camp serves students in fourth through eighth grades, many from North Camden, and runs from July 1 to 26. During the school year, the program also exists as an afterschool resource for approximately 250 students.
Children from the different age groups at the showcase demonstrated unique dance routines and shared lessons learned from classes, like those on farming and cycling. Adult volunteers and student ambassadors that assisted in the day-to-day summer activities joined in the presentations at times.
Mack said his favorite part of the program is harambee, a daily motto adopted that translates to "all pull together" in Swahili.
"The beauty of it is, when they come here in the morning, some of these kids maybe didn't have dinner last night, maybe they had a big fight with their families, (but) when you walk into that black box, that's all forgotten about," he said. "It's a new day, it's a fresh start, and just eager to get whatever we have for the day tackled."
At one point during the event, a child read passages onstage about "Woke Wednesdays," which provided history lessons through the summer. Others acted out scenes related to subjects of being kind to everyone and overcoming bullying, capped off with musical numbers.
“As a kid, I never would’ve dreamed of coming up here and doing what you all did," Mack said at the conclusion of the event.