Hands to Help Summer Camp Empowers Young Lives

In just a week’s time, the employees and volunteers at the Hands to Help and St. Mary of the Assumption Summer Camp can see the growth in behavior among their campers

  • Hands to Help Summer Camp
    Hands to Help Summer Camp

Without the camp, many of the children would be sitting at home watching television by themselves. However, very subtly, during games of dodgeball and tic-tac-toe, children are learning life lessons.

The changes can be remarkable. One student in particular arrived angry at having to attend camp but after a couple of days, the camp volunteers and employees noticed he was right in the middle of camp activities and happy.

“A lot of them didn’t know how to work in a group dynamic,” said Rosana Urbaez, the assistant director for Hands to Help, which is run by Merrimack College’s Office of Mission & Ministry. “They go from, ‘I don’t want to do this” to ‘oh, wait, this is fun’ and by the end are like, ‘can we come back?’”

The camp was held at Hands to Help’s headquarters at the former St. Mary of the Assumption Elementary School on Haverhill Street in Lawrence. It ran 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. during two one-week sessions, first for students in grades three through five and then for students grades five through eight. Each session included field trips, including the Essex Arts Center in Lawrence and Seacoast Science Center in Rye, N.H.

The camp helps fulfill the Augustinian mission to empower lives and the children learn that their community cares about them and what they are doing, Urbaez said.

This is the first summer Hands to Help partnered with St. Mary of the Assumption Church, of Lawrence, Mass. Much like Hands to Help, St. Mary wants to help the children learn about faith, hope and love while working on social skills through team building, said volunteer Christa Larson, who is a catechist for the church.

“We take what we learn and have team building activities throughout the day,” Larson said. “I think it’s working out really well.”

The camp works hard to instill lessons on values and during a recent camp day, campers were learning about generosity, said Berny Lugo ’20, who is a business major from Lawrence.

“We’re talking about generosity and why it’s good,” she said. “We need to be thankful for what we have.”

The campers aren’t the only ones taking away life lessons.

“The kids also teach me how to be a better person,” Lugo said. “They teach me patience, you need to be patient with kids because they think they know everything but you just cope with it. You need to be open-minded and understand not everyone thinks the way you do. So, you have to learn why they think the way they do and why I think the way I do, then come to an understanding.”