2001-08-18 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio by Susan Hartenstein

"You have built up my child’s self esteem." "The best part is making new friends and feeling like part of a family." "The worst part is at 1:45 when I come to pick up my triplets and they run from me, telling me I’m too early – come back later." These are just a few of the comments by children and parents in this summer’s RAA Camp kidsmART.

Camp kidsmART was the wildly popular art-based summer program RAA ran for the second year at Fort Tilden. To simply list the wide variety of arts and activities offered the children in the program would be to short-change its description. And to characterize it as simply a place where a lot of kids had fun would be to understate its significance. Marina Callaghan, so key to the daily moral and emotional fabric of the camp, called last day’s festivities "a celebration of friendship." Indeed, this supportive and nurturing underpinning was essential to the program from first day to last. Establishing a nurturing environment for children where they could discover their own unique creative expression and recognize the richness inside themselves was the goal and the passion of each of the women responsible for Camp kidsmART – Chris Jorge, Kate Judge and Marina Callaghan. (Out-It was the daily mantra of Callaghan.) Chris Jorge, RAA vice president who secured the funding which made the program possible, is proud of the fact that a major element of the camp was to provided employment or local teens and adults.

Kate Judge, who ran the camp, spoke to me of the last day and o the program in general. She calls it a day filled with hugs, tears, songs and more. The celebration was held August 9 in building T-149, filled to the rafters with parents, foster parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. Children performed songs, some they had written, and some written with teachers. Miki Krakauer beautifully sang the poignant "See You Next Year" by teacher Naron Tillman. The children also performed vignettes that expressed the principles established for the camp – Kindness, Imagination, Dependability, Solidarity, Motivation, Acceptance, Respect, and Tolerance. Surrounding all of this was the gallery of children’s art filled with what Judge refers to as "the vibrancy of their creativity and self discovery." During the month of the camp, through such things as nature walks, excursions to the Fort’s Visitor Center, a talk by Gateway site manager Alex Romero, who shared information about the park, and working in the park’s communal gardens, the children were taught respect for the environment and their community. By planting in the gardens and painting public places, they learned about giving back and leaving something behind for others that would last beyond this one summer.

Judge credits many for the success of this camp. It was a shared vision. "The teachers and teen assistants were phenomenal," she states. "Each added his or her own special contribution. Judge cannot say enough about the parents, whose generosity and support helped to make the camp such a beautiful experience." When asked if the camp would continue next year, Judge replied, "Everyone wants it to be bigger and better next year. There is a definite need in the community for it. Since RAA, is a public service organization, we want to give them what they need and want." In the words of Chris Jorge, "The beauty of this program lies not only in its environment of an urban national park, but in its affordability, its non-competitive nature and in the fact that it fills a void that has existed in this community for many years."

Saturday, August 25 at 7 p.m. in the Post Theatre, the Rockaway Theatre Company is holding its fourth annual fundraiser. The evening will include raffles, bids on artwork, songs, skits, scenes from shows, the chance to win a part in RTC’s Halloween show and more – all for only a $5 donation at the door. In addition, there will be a performance of the new children’s play written and performed by the kids in the RTC/RAA theater workshop. Under the training and supervision of members of RAA and RTC the children learned theater skills and the art of creating scenery.

Brief reminder – this Saturday, 12-3 p.m. sTudio 6 at Fort Tilden – free – "Music, Art & Poetry for a Midsummer’s Day" – art exhibit, singers and musicians (including Apryl Green of "Guys and Dolls"), poetry readings, open mike for poets (come 11:45 a.m. to sign up for open mike), refreshments, fun. Come. Enjoy.

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