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“I am an American:” Summer Camp at IISTL

Posted on August 7, 2017 by Kim Oswalt

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Memories of summer camps past hold a special place in many of our hearts. For refugee children at the International Institute of St. Louis, summer camp 2017 is not one that will be quickly forgotten.

The Jewish Coalition for New Americans (a committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council) organized a four-week summer camp for refugee children at the International Institute this summer for the first time.

While their parents took English classes upstairs, 40-50 New American kids sang, played games, learned new words, ate delicious meals (courtesy of Food Outreach) and developed close relationships with nearly 100 volunteers from the Jewish community.

Every day held a new adventure for the kids, who ranged in age from five-to-13 years old. On one morning, Shirlee Green Preschool director Karen Lucy made a trip to the Institute with a few special guests – her snake, pig, lizard and turtle.

When presented with the option of petting each of these guests, some kids squealed in glee while others preferred to watch from the sidelines (or behind the desks).

On the final day of camp, the children and their leaders marched all the way around the International Institute waving American flags, singing “America the Beautiful” and shouting “U.S.A! U.S.A!”

Later that afternoon, they continued with the theme of the day – “I am an American” – by sitting in the shade enjoying red, white and blue popsicles from an ice cream truck and showing off their Statue of Liberty hats.

Historically, English class attendance for adults drops off during the summer, according to International Institute Vice President and Director of Education, Anita Barker. This year, however, parents were able to continue their lessons throughout the summer because they knew their children had a safe place to learn and play.

Alyssa Banford, program and engagement associate for the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis; Stan Shanker, chair of the JCNA; and Debbie Bram, curriculum developer, were instrumental in the organization and implementation of the camp. It was made possible through a partnership between Congregation Shaare Emeth, Central Reformed Congregation, Temple Israel and United Hebrew Congregation.

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