Campus & Community

SUP builds safe, exciting, productive summers for kids

4 min read

As summer heats up and school lets out, public officials throughout the Boston area scramble for new ways to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble through summer jobs and activities. As in years past, Harvard undergraduates are answering the call, mentoring low-income children, and recruiting and working with teenage counselors throughout Boston and Cambridge in community-based day camps.

The Summer Urban Program (SUP), one of three local programs recently nominated for the Carter Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration, is a joint effort run by Harvard University’s Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) and the Boston Youth Fund. SUP provides six and a half weeks of safe and constructive summer activities for more than 850 elementary school students in Boston and Cambridge while providing meaningful employment and job training for over 85 high school students under the leadership of 125 Harvard undergraduates.

A Harvard sophomore and co-director of a camp in South Boston, Frances Tompkins, sees results right before her eyes. Among her numerous examples is a pair of siblings she describes as initially very well behaved and bright, but shy. As camp progressed, she noticed a marked change as they began to flourish through interactions with others. She says, “Throughout camp, they became more outgoing. At the end of the summer, the parent informed us that she had placed her kids in the camp so that they could become more social. And she confirmed that she had actually watched the transformation, even at home.”

One of SUP’s main goals is to provide the campers with positive role models for the future. To that end, each camp is staffed with high school and college-age counselors from the local neighborhoods and supervised by two or more directors.

Directors such as Tompkins have been taking time out of their busy academic schedules since February to prepare for camp. She is quick to point out that while the tasks of fundraising, hiring staff, and brainstorming to design new camp activities sound like thankless work, “[They] are actually very good opportunities to develop as a leader … and think of really cool ideas.”

While each SUP camp is organized to specifically cater to the communities it serves, all camps have the same structures and goals. In the morning, camp counselors engage children in classroom learning, and in the afternoon they embark on educational and fun-filled field trips to explore the Greater Boston outside their neighborhoods. The summer’s work culminates in a show highlighting the achievements of the children throughout the summer and presented to parents and other members of the community.

PBHA executive director Gene A. Corbin points to the presence of former campers who return to SUP as junior counselors, camp directors, and even board members as one of the hallmarks of its success. “The program works because it challenges individuals to be active leaders in their neighborhood,” he said. “Time and again, these kids grow up to be successful young adults seeking to reinvest in the community and organizations that helped them blossom and reach their full potential.”

“SUP is quite possibly one of the most intense and rewarding experiences one could have,” said Tompkins. “It is a way to work with students, parents, and communities to create positive change, while also developing both personally and professionally. The responsibility that comes with providing a safe and enriching summer for others is great, but the relationships that develop are priceless.”

PBHA holds auction to benefit camps

The Phillips Brooks House Association will hold its annual spring auction to raise funds for its Summer Urban Program tonight (April 26) at the new Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub below Sanders Theatre. The silent auction is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., with the live auction 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Proceeds will support PBHA’s 12 summer camps serving more than 850 children in Boston and Cambridge. Admission at the door is $40. Advance tickets ($25) are available at the Harvard Box Office. Hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, and live jazz included.