When Joyce Ellis asked campers in her youth program last year to pay it forward, she was astonished by the outpouring of generosity.
Ellis, executive director of the LeMoyne Community Center, hosts Camp Challenge, an eight-week program for children ages 6 to 16.
As part of the camp curriculum, Ellis implemented “Coco bucks,” named after her dog, Coco. Earned through model behavior, Coco bucks could be spent at the conclusion of the summer. Ellis created a Coco gift store featuring lightly used items.
Ellis began requesting Coco buck contributions from the campers and informed the children that offerings would be donated to their peers. The campers’ display of charity inspired Ellis.
“For instance, they would get 50 (Coco bucks),” Ellis explained, “and they would be giving away 20.”
As a result, the camp, which provides enriched education and child care to area families, will be expanding the pay-it-forward movement into the community.
Ellis said the pay-it-forward concept has been gaining momentum over the past year. Last December, a Starbucks in Connecticut sold more than a thousand drinks to customers who paid it forward, treating fellow customers.
This summer, the community center is mimicking the process through a program entitled “We Pay It Forward to Our Youth.” The program requests donations to fund the camp. Donors who contribute $100 or more will receive a weekly letter from one or more campers, expressing their appreciation and describing camp activities.
“It’s just a big circle of giving,” Ellis said.
Proceeds will be invested in enhancing the multifaceted camp experience.
The center encourages students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to enroll in an effort to establish diversity.
On Monday, this year’s camp will begin at 9 a.m. with a fresh, nutritious breakfast.
According to Marlene Yandel, food coordinator at Lemoyne Community Center, campers maintain a health-conscious diet. Campers also receive a lunch and light snack.
“We make sure all the meals meet the food groups,” Yandel said.
The camp itinerary is designed to mimic a school day. The curriculum features an array of activities assigned to each station, taught by college students. Campers transfer stations every 45 minutes to an hour. The stations are designed to engage each child’s interests – from art projects to nature walks.
In addition to weekly field trips, campers are kept sharp for the coming school year by completing two hours of education-based activity per day.
Linda Harris, director of education at Camp Challenge, said that as summer vacation goes on, students tend to forget information from the previous school year.
“We are looking to close that gap,” Harris said.
The thank-you notes, Harris added, which campers will be addressing to the pay-it-forward donors, will assist in this effort.
Ellis also plans to preserve instruction on cursive writing by requiring campers to write the thank-you notes in cursive
With 41 states lifting the cursive writing requirement at public schools, Ellis said she intends for all her campers to master the skill.
Harris said the letters of appreciation would provide campers with an opportunity to reflect on their blessings.
“The thank-you notes show the kids how many people are rooting for them and backing them,” said Harris.
Kalia Yong, 15, attended the camp since its origination five years ago. Of all the campers, Yong donated the highest number of Coco bucks from her original amount.
“I think the (pay-it-forward movement) is great, because I know what it’s like to be less fortunate,” Yong said. “And it will help other people in the community to get involved.”