Disciple: Fifty Years of Summer Enrichment
The Summer Enrichment Program at St. Paul’s, Winston-Salem, celebrates its golden anniversary
By Lisa Carter, Aliesha Oakes, Rhett Butler and the Rev. Nancy Vaders
In 1972, five large churches in downtown Winston-Salem partnered to form the Downtown Church Center Ministry. Their focus was to serve the needs of families and seniors who resided in downtown Winston-Salem. The churches offered a variety of programming for seniors and children, and St. Paul’s, Winston-Salem, decided to focus on summer programming for children. That year, the Summer Enrichment Program began. Fifty years later, the ministry is still going strong.
[The 2021 cohort of Summer Enrichment Program campers pose in front of St. Paul’s, Winston-Salem, with program directors Aliesha Oakes and Rhett Butler. Photos throughout courtesy of St. Paul’s]
That’s 50 years of educational field trips, creative art projects, fun at swimming pools, skating rinks and fishing holes, delicious cooking classes, intriguing science experiments, nutritious breakfasts and lunches, faithful devotions, and so much more for thousands of children.
Chair of the Summer Enrichment Committee Lisa Carter first became involved when her daughter, Grace, and son, Jackson, worked as volunteers and, upon graduating high school, as counselors. “Each day, they would come home and share special moments from their days,” she wrote in an appeal to the parish. “An impactful conversation with a child over lunch, a shared laugh on a field trip, a meaningful connection formed between camper and counselor. Later, when I joined the Summer Enrichment Committee, I was genuinely awed by the work of the staff and the many volunteers who come together to make each summer a memorable experience. As much as the children who have participated in the program have benefitted, their presence here each summer has been a wonderful gift to all of us. Programs don’t reach a golden anniversary unless they are truly exceptional!”
In the beginning, the program was staffed solely by parishioners, and the children who attended were taken back to their homes for lunch. Today, the program is staffed by director Aliesha Oakes and assistant director Rhett Butler, who, while not members of the parish, have served in their roles for 20 years. A group of six counselors—a mix of parishioners and community members—work with volunteers from the parish who teach classes and help serve meals. The Summer Enrichment Program committee plans each summer’s programming and handles logistics.
Children attend the program from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday-Friday during the month of July. They are served breakfast and lunch each day, and the church also provides all transportation to and from the campers’ homes. Campers are divided into three groups: kindergarten through third grade, fourth through sixth grade and seventh through ninth grade.
Most of the 50-60 children annually enrolled in the program live northwest of the church in the primarily Black and Latino Thurmond Avenue community. Many of the campers’ families have, in one way or another, been connected with summer enrichment at St. Paul’s for generations. Additionally, the Summer Enrichment Program serves children who participate in the church’s Kids Cafe afterschool program that operates during the school year to provide dinner and homework help.
Summer Enrichment Program campers are engaged in a wide variety of activities every summer. There are some constants that the children love each year, like swimming three mornings a week, bowling, roller skating and fishing at a parishioner’s farm. Each year, parishioners also volunteer their time to lead activities at the church, such as art projects, science experiments, scavenger hunts, cooking, sewing, music and more. The committee also sets up a variety of field trips each year. Those trips have included visits to the International Civil Rights Museum, Greensboro Science Center, Wake Forest Museum of Anthropology, Bethabara Park, Richard Childress Racing Museum, Dan Nichols Park, Mendenhall Homeplace, Kaleideum, Reynolda House, Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, Nido & Mariana Qubein Children’s Museum, television and fire station visits, and tours of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University and Forsyth Technical Community College.
Even during 2020, the Summer Enrichment Program continued with “summer enrichment on wheels.” Each day, the program directors and director of outreach the Rev. Nancy Vaders drove the St. Paul’s bus to deliver meals and activities to families at their homes. Even though they couldn’t host the program on-site, it was important to let the children know that they were still campers, still a part of the Summer Enrichment Program. Oakes’ favorite memory from the program illustrates why maintaining this sense of connection was so important.
“It was the day we pulled up with the bus while Monte [a camper] was playing in the yard, perhaps anticipating that last week in June when our team personally delivers enrollment forms. Upon seeing the bus roll to a stop in front of his house, he excitedly exclaimed, ‘Oh yeah! There go my people!’ That joy and excitement Monte had as he saw us approach forever stamped in my heart and whole being the importance of this ministry and its significance to the children and communities it serves.”
St. Paul’s has been very generous in its support of the Summer Enrichment Program these past 50 years, and it is a program near and dear to staff and parishioners alike. The church provides financial support as well as use of the church campus. Parishioners support the program by volunteering their time teaching classes in art and science as well as helping to serve meals and plan events. Other area churches help out by loaning buses for additional transportation support. It is a community effort.
“All the wonderful trips and activities are great, but it’s more than just a day camp–Summer Enrichment is about presence and connection,” Vaders said. “It’s about building relationships and having people who know you, and joyfully welcome you back year after year. It’s an embrace of the good and joyful Gospel work of loving and serving our neighbors.”
Lisa Carter is the Summer Enrichment Committee chair. Aliesha Oakes is the Summer Enrichment Program director. Rhett Butler is the Summer Enrichment Program assistant director. The Rev. Nancy Vaders is director of outreach and a deacon at St. Paul’s, Winston-Salem.
Tags: North Carolina Disciple