Powerhouse camp mixes discipline with culture
This isn’t your typical summer camp.
In one classroom, a student sits behind a piano playing a song while her peers sit and stand around her singing. The vocal coach is nestled among the children.
In another room, children sit in two rows of chairs learning how to say rice omelet in French today, and maybe they will learn in Arabic or Spanish tomorrow. One teacher is in the front of the room and the other sits in the front row between students.
The free six-week summer camp offered by the Courtney Jordan Group takes a different approach to helping children reach grade level or better prepare for the next over the summer.
Volunteer-run and financed by CJ Group President Courtney Jordan, the program has expanded to Durham this year and is making changes in children’s lives one day of camp at a time.
“This is not the camp that you or I would have gone to because there is a lack,” Jordan said.
Jordan was referring to a lack of support and encouragement in and out of the classroom as well as the home, combined with discipline and people who genuinely care.
“The changed from the beginning to now are because of discipline,” he said. “That’s what we’re about. It’s about the development of the mind, body and spirit. I know it makes a difference because I can see it.”
The Courtney Jordan Group is a non-profit organization with the mission to inspire, enrich and empower lives, provide substantive and viable solutions to cultural ailments through education and the restoration of family values. The Durham Youth Alliance is under the Courtney Jordan Group.
Being run out of Braggtown Baptist Church on N. Roxboro Road and under the DYA, the six-week camp is almost like a workday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
After a hot breakfast, the students are broken into groups based on age – 7 through 9, 10 through 12 and 13 to 17 -- and by interest.
“It’s beneficial to everyone but especially beneficial to the kids,” said DYA Program Director Avery Morton. “This camp will give children the opportunity to flex their mental muscle as well as display their creative sides. This will keep their summer break productive and constructive and one to remember because of the skills and experiences they’ve gained.”
If it’s not a foreign language, its free SAT or ACT prep, acting or yoga workshops, playing on the basketball or volleyball team , listening to guest speakers or expressing themselves through spoken word.
Tahsin Zaman, a senior neuroscience major at Duke University, volunteers to teach the children French and several other languages while Carissa McAdol from North Carolina Central University teaches English and math and has integrated her interest in healthy living to teach the children how to lead healthy lives.
This year the camp has 106 children and is staffed by volunteers who easily put in 40 hours a week.
Despite the long hours and lack of pay, Morton said that the difference he sees in the children makes it worth it.
“It gets better everyday,” he said. “On the first day, the bus pulled up to the location and they were all over the place, as if they were attacking the bus. I asserted myself and they got it together.
“The next day, they were lined up in a straight line, front to back. The bus driver asked me what I had said to them,” Morton said laughing. “We want to show them that there is an alternative, that you can solve problems without yelling or using profane language.”
Morton and Jordan have both had parents, grandparents and other caretakers ask them about their techniques because the children behave so differently upon returning home each day.
“We don’t just teach,” Jordan said. “We teach them how to learn, then to learn. We like to combine everything, the educational part and the fun part.
“They don’t get the chance to be in the front and know that someone believes in them.”