Jackson summer camps emphasize health, well-being

Operation Shoestring has been offering school and summer activities to Jackson’s kids for decades, but this year, things are going a little differently.

The new action is called “Project Rise,” and is focused on physical and mental health activities throughout the summer. This includes wellness interviews in summer camp activities such as academic enrichment, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) activities, outdoor sports, swimming classes, and tutoring programs.

This year’s camp serves about 125 third- and fifth-graders within six weeks, free of charge.

Summer and school year programs help children in the Jackson Public School system and subway area. Jackson students are mostly from low-income color families: 95% of students are black, and 73.8% of students eat free or reduced lunch.

For Laquinta Williams, the camp has been a great help to her family. Williams is the only working mother of Markeem and Akirahs, a student at Walton Elementary School who also attends Operation Shoestring summer programs.

He believes summer programming is especially important for his son Mark, as his father recently passed away.

“He likes to talk to them, and he usually doesn’t like talking to people,” he said of the camp staff. “He feels comfortable with them.”

He also said the camp helps him get to work.

“It’s a lot of money for children to grow up without help,” he said. “… We appreciate everything. This is the best service we have ever had. They also offer us breakfast when we leave the kids. ”

It is difficult to help children alone, she said, and she has been able to afford other summer camps and activities over the past summer. The free activities of Operation Shoestring will be free of charge this year.

Operation Shoestring students listen to the instruction before doing a mindfulness exercise at Ridgeland St. At Andrew’s Episcopal School, Monday, June 13, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton / Mississippi Today

Robert Langford, chief executive of Operation Shoestring, said the COVID-19 pandemic was under pressure from communities of color, adding to the tremendous stress caused by the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 and the subsequent social justice movement. an urgent need among families across the country, especially in the Jackson community.

Recent research shows that the symptoms of depression and anxiety in young people have doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of young people experiencing symptoms of depression and 20% experiencing symptoms of anxiety.

Suicide rates were rising among black children before the pandemic, and black children are nearly twice as likely to commit suicide as white children, according to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office. And children in low-income families are two to three times more likely to develop mental health disorders than those in higher-income families — a staggering statistic for a state like Mississippi, where about 30 percent of its children are poor.

In response to the need for mental health care, Operation Shoestring weaves “positive and affirmative language” into its classrooms and activities, as well as focusing on physical health and well-being, Langford said.

The organization has partnered with a dietitian at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to demonstrate the importance of nutrition in general well-being, such as cooking and nutrition classes and creating healthy recipes.

The kids at the camp will also take part in a baking class at Urban Foxes, a local family-owned cake shop.

Langford said Operation Shoestring values ​​the ability of students to explore outdoor spaces, in collaboration with St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and Pearl River Keepers, an organization that works to protect Pearl River’s biodiversity through cleanup and cleanup. water analysis and monitoring.

In San Andres, students are encouraged to participate in a variety of activities, such as basketball, soccer, or wellness classes.

In a wellness class on Monday, Lauren Powell, the school’s wellness director and high school counselor, reflected on what it’s like to practice and remember children’s well-being, including laughter, physical activity, dance, and positive affirmations. The students then created a drawing that included five to six positive traits about themselves, such as being bold, curious, intelligent, and sympathetic.

Lauren Powell, St. On the left, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School High School Counselor and Welfare Director, Operation Shoestring, helps students with attention training at St. Ridgeland St. At Andrew’s Episcopal School, Miss., Monday, June 13, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton / Mississippi Today

Students like to do cupid mixing and other dances to wake themselves up and prepare before any other activity, he said, and the dances set the tone for more self-expression for campers.

Powell said he enjoys working with this age group because they are able to express their emotions without embarrassment.

Asked how to deal with children from different backgrounds, Powell explained that St. Andrews uses something called an “asset framework,” a way for children to first define themselves according to their assets and intentions, before challenges or shortcomings.

“These kids come from very rich cultures, and they come from very, very rich family traditions,” she said.

Operation Shoestring also continues its tradition of providing support to parents of campers. She provided financial support to families in need during the pandemic and is now organizing two parent support group sessions, one at Cultivation Food Hall and the other at Ecoshed.

“It simply came to our notice then. And we at Mississippi have a special responsibility for our past, to do what we can with where we are, ”Langford said. “So we see ourselves as an organization that provides direct services and leads relationships with other people to build a healthier, fairer and more compassionate world.”

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