Training Young Agents For a Brighter Tomorrow

Camp CIA made its debut last week. A new crop of trained CIA agents are on the streets of Abilene, and the city is better for it. Maybe you noticed a sharp increase in caring, and if not, just wait until the second batch undergoes training this week. Connecting Caring Communities is hosting Caring In Action (CIA) camps this summer as part of its summer neighborhood activities, thanks to a gift from the Ruth and Bill Burton Family Endowed Fund at the Community Foundation of Abilene. The afternoon camps in four north Abilene neighborhoods spaced throughout June and July are open to all elementary students. The first camp was held in the Stevenson neighborhood last week at the Woodson Center for Excellence, and this week it will be at the Cobb Park Activities Building. Like any typical day camp, this one comes complete with cute little campers, cheesy puppet shows, flowerpot painting, dirt cups with sour gummy worms and relay races -- all with an emphasis on caring and centered on a secret agent, spy theme. It has been good so far.

The distinctive – and my favorite -- part of the camp, however, occurred the first week of June in the North Park neighborhood. The primary intent of the grant, titled “Young Leaders of Abilene,” was to locate young, potential leaders from the Abilene neighborhoods where the CCC community coordinators are working, bring them together and train them to be the camp counselors for their younger neighbors. So, as soon as school was out for the summer, we loaded up about 15 middle school and high school students and brought them to the North Park Friendship House for a week of team building, fun, fellowship, and day-camp planning. They learned and practiced puppet shows and mastered the crafts and games they would direct in the day camps later in the summer. Watching this diverse group of teens get acquainted and laugh and play and work together was an absolute joy. Tiring, without a doubt. But encouraging as well.

On Thursday of that week, we hosted a mini camp to give the newly christened counselors a chance to try out their new skills. It was even more encouraging to watch them engage the visiting campers. Like old pros, the young counselors led the kids through two hours of crafting and snacking and playing. The day ended with happy campers, to be sure, but also happy counselors and even happier community coordinators.

Last week, all the hard work paid off when we reconvened for the first camp. Everyone had their assignments and arrived early to get things ready for the afternoon’s fun. Camp started slowly but picked up steam, and we ended with nearly 25 campers. The highlight of the week was the water day on Thursday: Water relays, a huge homemade slip-and-slide, watermelons and snow cones.

The day turned out to be especially refreshing:

The evening before in Charleston, South Carolina, a community of faithful believers was attacked, and nine of them shot to death because they were black. It was a sad reminder of the evil and hatred still present in our world. Racism is a real thing. We cannot ignore it. We must fight it. We must open our eyes and see. We must open our ears and listen. We must open our mouths and speak out.

I know racism exists in Abilene, Texas. I am not foolish enough to pretend otherwise. But it was refreshing to splash in the water and laugh out loud with black and brown and white faces that Thursday afternoon in Stevenson Park.