By the time this year’s Lots of Hugs Summer Reading Program ended, everybody was all smiles. That’s not just because the program ended with an outdoor “fun day” Aug. 3 with bounce houses, a slip ’n’ slide and pickup basketball, though — this summer was a big success for the program and its campers.
Sharon Moody and her team celebrated the program’s move to a new home in Hope Lutheran Church. Moody said the move was made because the enrollment outgrew the previous space, Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, and Hope Lutheran was big enough to fit everyone comfortably.
This year, all 106 campers also got something to help them during the school year: backpacks filled with school supplies that were donated to the camp through the Kiwanis Club’s Stuff the Bus program. Though virtually all of the campers attend schools that have been served by Stuff the Bus, getting an extra chance to get free school supplies can’t hurt.
“If you purchase one of these, it’s probably going to be $50 or more. Some of (the families) have two or three or four kids,” Moody said. “It could be two or three hundred dollars.”
The program was designed eight years ago to keep kids academically engaged over the summer, preventing them from what Moody calls the “summer slide” that puts them at a disadvantage when school starts back up in August. From reading, writing and arithmetic to computer work, arts and religion, kids age 5 through 12 get a well-rounded education at the camp. Field trips are booked and guest speakers come through every year to keep things fresh. The campers are also served hot meals and have access to counseling opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t until school is in session.
Without opportunities like Lots of Hugs, kids could enter the new school year with a big problem: according to the National Summer Learning Association, students from low-income families who are not engaged over the summer could be nearly three years behind classmates from higher-income families by the time they reach fifth grade.
This year, Family Services was brought in to talk to this year’s group of kids about bullying and to offer counseling help. Local Girl Scouts came to the camp to teach team building for five weeks. There was also a weekly stick ministry performance.
Moody said the experience of working at and with Hope Lutheran has been nothing but pleasant, and the church confirmed the feeling is mutual.
“The family with Hope Lutheran was very generous to us and they like the program, so we’ll be back next year,” Moody said.