Campus & Community

PBHA program turns kids into counselors

4 min read

As summer draws to a close and young people across the area begin to think about returning to school, a group of more than 1,000 students ranging in age from 6 to 21 will head back to the classroom having spent another full summer with the Summer Urban Program (SUP) of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).

PBHA, the student-led public service organization at Harvard, founded SUP 25 years ago. This program has grown over the years to meet the need for positive summer experiences for low-income children and youth. This year, 140 Harvard undergraduates devoted their time to providing leadership at 12 community-based day camps located in different locations throughout Cambridge and Boston.

Serving more than 800 youth, ages 6-14, the camps also employ 85 high school students as junior counselors, “most of whom were campers themselves,” said Gene Corbin, executive director of PBHA.

These junior counselors play a key role at SUP, serving as intermediaries between the college-aged senior counselors and the campers.

These high school students, hired by PBHA for the seven-week camps, all come from the Boston and Cambridge neighborhoods where the camps are located.

Robert Pitt is a young man who is very familiar with the SUP, having been in the program for 12 years, first as a camper and then – for the past three years – as a junior counselor.

Pitt sees SUP as an important way to keep young students busy with worthwhile activities. “This program definitely keeps kids out of trouble by learning and getting involved,” said Pitt.

By living in the community and seeing his campers on a regular basis outside of SUP, Pitt recognizes that his position as a junior counselor is more than just a summer job. “It [the SUP] builds us up as stronger role models,” he said.

Pitt, one of five junior counselors at Roosevelt Towers (RVT) camp in Cambridge, works directly with Chaizotam Ekekezie ’08, a Harvard College student and co-director at RVT.

Ekekezie, who goes by “Cheech,” also recognizes her role as a mentor for the campers and junior counselors.

“I’ve volunteered before, but never in a summer camp,” said Ekekezie. “I’ve discovered a love of teaching and mentoring.” She sees the camps as a chance to be a positive influence on young people and to lead by example. “The relationship is about more than just what I say, it’s about what I do,” said Ekekezie.

In Chinatown, Daniel Yeng has been a junior counselor for three years after attending the program as a camper for seven years. Yeng said his senior counselor has affected many aspects of his life, and he’d like to do the same for others. “I’m always learning something new from my senior counselor, it could be educational like interviewing skills or college application essays, or just about life,” he said, adding, “When I was a camper, the junior counselors inspired me to do a lot of things and I want to pass that on to other kids and help the community.”

The junior counselor positions are funded by a combination of grants from the Boston Youth Fund, the Mayor’s Youth Fund in Cambridge, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), and the Harvard University Office of Government, Community and Public Affairs (OGCPA).

Junior counselors are hired for 25 hours per week for seven weeks. The OGCPA funds an additional 10 hours per week, and an extra week for training with the college students so that the students can have full-time employment for an entire eight weeks.

“OGCPA’s support makes it possible for the junior counselors to serve as full partners with the college students in planning and providing these camps in their neighborhoods,” said Corbin.